Russian objections stall deal to send U.N. monitors to Syria

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari

A plan to send a small group of U.N. observers into Syria stalled in the Security Council on Friday over sticking points that included Russia’s objection to a provision that called for the Syrian government to be held accountable for human rights violations.

Diplomats said the talks might resume Saturday.

The Security Council resolution, if passed, would send an initial group of 30 unarmed U.N. observers into Syria to help extend a fragile cease-fire brokered by U.N.–Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Annan has said he would like to see as many as 250 U.N. monitors on the ground to ensure that rebel fighters and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad abide by the terms of the cease-fire.

“There are tough talks head,” said a Security Council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the deliberations. Along with language about human rights violations, Moscow also wanted the plan to clearly demand that rebels stop attacks on the government. The current plan was largely drafted by the U.S. mission to the U.N. and is supported by Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Morocco.

Diplomats going paragraph by paragraph through the resolution “made some progress,” said the diplomat.

Syrian allies Russia and China have both vetoed two earlier Security Council resolutions that condemned the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters and rebel groups that began 13 months ago.

A small group of U.N. observers was put on alert Friday and told to be ready to board planes for Syria if the resolution passed, said Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan in Geneva.

Despite the cease-fire, there were reports of sporadic fighting in Syria on Friday that killed “seven to 10” people, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The cease-fire “at best can only be described as fragile. But it is a first step; we want to try to build on it,” he said. The U.S. wants to see the Syrian government act on its promises to Annan to lead a political dialogue, release political prisoners and grant access to the country for humanitarian assistance, among other steps.

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-- Brian Bennett in Washington

Photo:  Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari leaves Security Council talks at U.N. headquarters in New York. Credit: Peter Foley / European Pressphoto Agency

 
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