European nations dial back U.N. resolution on Syria

Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the U.N., said "still things are in there that would make it impossible for us."

Story highlights

  • Diplomats hope to vote on resolution by the end of the week
  • Signs that Europeans and Russia are moving toward consensus, but obstacles remain
  • Syrian ambassador calls European and American attempts at sanctions "Machiavellian"
  • A new European draft resolution on Syria removes sanctions, but threatens them in the future
The four European members of the U.N. Security Council are softening their stance on Syria with an eye toward persuading Russia and China to get on board with council action. The council met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the action proposed by the Europeans.
A new draft resolution, obtained by CNN on Wednesday, removes all sanctions from a previous European and American effort that has been stalled in the Security Council for months. The new draft does, however, threaten sanctions if Syria does not comply within 15 days with demands to cease violence against civilians and allow humanitarian agencies to enter the country. Diplomats hope to vote on the resolution by the end of the week.
"One must be realistic," Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral said before the meeting, referring to the softer European stance. The other European countries on the Security Council are Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
A senior European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity that is often standard during negotiations, made clear that they weakened the resolution only in an attempt to gain the support of Russia and China -- which both have veto power in the council -- and not as a concession to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the U.N., expressed some optimism after the Wednesday meeting, saying that they were successful in getting the Russians to engage on the European text.
Nonetheless, the concession by the Europeans may not be enough to convince Russia to get on board.
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"It can be done, but still things are in there that would make it impossible for us," said Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. Russia has long expressed a worry that a Security Council resolution on Syria would lead to regime change and the type of mission creep it believes happened after a March resolution authorized NATO action to protect civilians in Libya.
"It's important to work fast, but also it's important not to make mistakes," Churkin said after the meeting.
Russia has circulated an updated version of its own resolution on Syria. That resolution, also obtained by CNN, condemns the ongoing violence in Syria but does not open the door to any sanctions. Instead, it calls for "an inclusive Syrian-led political process."
Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., praised the Russian draft.
"Everything that can make balance to these European and American attempts is welcome, because it makes balance and it stops all this machinery, Machiavellian machinery in the Security Council, aiming at fulfilling political agendas rather than helping Syria," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York. A statement put out by Ban's office said that he "reiterated his call for an end to violence and for a genuine process to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the people for comprehensive political change"
The four European sponsors are now working to incorporate changes into their resolution that arose from the Wednesday meeting, and planned to circulate a new draft Wednesday night.