- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Security Council diplomats said Wednesday they have agreed on a council statement backing former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s efforts to end the yearlong bloodshed in Syria.

The nonbinding statement calls for a cease-fire in Syria and the opening of conflict areas to humanitarian aid.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity before a public announcement, said the nonbinding presidential statement would be read at an open meeting of the council Wednesday morning.

The governments of the 15 council nations had been given until 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday to raise any objections to the text of the statement. Diplomats said none had done so.

In a bid to win support from Russia and China, which twice have vetoed European- and U.S.-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protesters, France watered down its proposed Security Council statement.

The original draft would have called on the council to review implementation of Mr. Annan’s proposal in seven days and consider “further measures” — which could include sanctions or military action — if there wasn’t sufficient progress.

But a revised draft circulated late Tuesday and obtained by the Associated Press dropped that threat and instead asks Mr. Annan to update the council regularly on the progress of his mission.

“In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate,” the new draft said.

A presidential statement, which needs approval from all 15 Security Council members, becomes part of the council’s permanent record. It is stronger than a press statement, which does not. But unlike resolutions, neither statement is legally binding.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the Syria crisis is the most pressing issue facing the world.

“We have no time to waste, no time to lose. Just one minute, one hour delay will mean more and more people dead,” Mr. Ban told reporters in the Indonesian city of Bogor, his first stop on an Asian tour.

The revised draft was discussed hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is ready to support a U.N. resolution endorsing Mr. Annan’s plan for settling the Syrian crisis. But Mr. Lavrov warned that a resolution shouldn’t turn into an ultimatum to the Syrian government.

Russia and China twice have vetoed resolutions condemning Syria‘s crackdown, in which the U.N. estimates more than 8,000 people have died. They called the resolutions unbalanced and said they demanded an end only to government attacks, not ones by the opposition. Moscow also argued that the resolutions promoted regime change in Syria and feared outside intervention to support the rebels, as happened in Libya.

The Kremlin also has offered strong support to Mr. Annan, who is the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria. Mr. Lavrov said over the weekend that Mr. Annan’s plan doesn’t contain a demand for Mr. Assad to step down.

One of the sticking points among Russia, Syria and the West is the sequencing of a cease-fire. Syria says the opposition must lay down its arms first. Russia says the government and opposition must stop fighting simultaneously. Western countries insist that since Mr. Assad’s forces started fighting first and are responsible for most of the killings, they must stop first.

The revised draft resolution would require the Syrian government to immediately stop troop movements and halt the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. As these actions are taking place, it says, the government should work with Mr. Annan to bring about a halt to violence under U.N. supervision.

The draft says Mr. Annan should seek similar commitments from the opposition — with no mention of a time frame.

The plan would commit Mr. Assad’s government to work with Mr. Annan “in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people,” and both sides “to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis.”



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