Europe drops Syria sanctions threat

European nations dropped an explicit threat of sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad to try to win Russian support for what would be the first UN resolution condemning his military crackdown on civilian protesters.

European nations dropped an explicit threat of sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad to try to win Russian support for what would be the first UN resolution condemning his military crackdown on civilian protesters.

The Europeans also appealed to all sides in Syria “to reject violence and extremism”.

The new European draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, still threatens to consider imposing “targeted measures” – which can include sanctions – against Syria if it does not comply with demands, including an immediate halt to violence and respect for human rights.

But the words “including sanctions” which were in the previous draft, are gone.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after a closed UN Security Council meeting on Thursday that Moscow was totally opposed to even mentioning the possibility of sanctions “and we are not the only ones ... who think that”.

Asked yesterday about the latest draft, Mr Churkin said: “The important thing is that our capitals are looking at it.”

Whether Russia will support, opposed or abstain on the resolution remains to be seen.

Several Western diplomats said they hoped for a council vote on Tuesday.

It took four months for the security council to break a deadlock between supporters and opponents of Syria and finally issue a statement in August condemning the escalating violence in the country.

But the UN’s most powerful body has been unable to agree on a legally-binding resolution.

After the council unanimously agreed on the presidential statement in August, the Europeans, backed by the United States, quickly tried to press for a resolution calling for an immediate arms embargo and other sanctions aimed at stopping the Assad government’s crackdown on opposition protesters.

But Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil were opposed, partly because of fear that the resolution might be used as a pretext for armed intervention against Syria.

They have argued that the UN resolution authorising the use of force to protect civilians in Libya has been misused by Nato to justify months of air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and now its remnants.

This week, the Europeans presented a new draft resolution that dropped immediate sanctions, but expressed “determination” to impose targeted sanctions within 15 days if the Syrian government doesn’t immediately end all violence, allow fundamental rights and freedoms including free expression and peaceful assembly, lift all media restrictions, and allow unhindered access for human rights investigators.

The Russians rejected it, so the Europeans came back with a new text on Thursday that softened the sanctions language further.

It expressed determination to “consider the adoption of targeted measures, including sanctions” in 30 days if Syria didn’t halt the violence and comply with other measures. But the Russians were still unhappy.

The latest draft drops the word “sanctions” and “urges all sides to reject violence and extremism”.

Russia and India wanted to ensure that the text mentioned violence being caused by some extremist elements opposed to the Assad regime.

Still, the Europeans have made clear that there is no equivalence between what the Syrian military has done and any actions by extremists.

The latest draft “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders”.

It calls for the release of all political prisoners and peaceful demonstrators and demands that Syrian authorities immediately stop violating human rights and stop using force against civilians.

It also calls on all states “to exercise vigilance and restraint over the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Syria of arms and related materiel”.

The European draft also calls for “an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation, and extremism”. It adds in support for the Arab League’s effort to end the violence and promote a political dialogue.

Meanwhile the Obama administration says it has read the “riot act” to Syria’s ambassador to the United States over an attack on America’s top envoy to the country.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Syrian ambassador was summoned to the department after Thursday’s assault on American ambassador Robert Ford.

Ms Nuland said the Syrian official was reminded in unusually blunt terms that Mr Ford is President Barack Obama’s personal representative in Syria and that the assault on Mr Ford was an attack on the United States.

Mr Ford was not injured in the incident outside the office of a Syrian opposition figure he was meeting, but several armoured embassy vehicles were damaged.

Ms Nuland said the US was demanding compensation.

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