UN set to vote on Syria today

The United Nations will vote today on a new British-crafted Syria resolution after a last-minute delay failed to get key Western nations and Russia to agree on measures to end the soaring violence.

The United Nations will vote today on a new British-crafted Syria resolution after a last-minute delay failed to get key Western nations and Russia to agree on measures to end the soaring violence.

Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the Western-backed text would be put to a Security Council vote at 10am New York time (3pm Irish time).

It threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government if he does not withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days and is tied to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict.

Russia, which is a close Syrian ally, has said it will veto any Chapter 7 resolution.

In Moscow yesterday, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to the deadly bombing in the heart of Damascus that killed the defence minister and his deputy, Assad's powerful brother-in-law, and accused the West of inciting the Syrian opposition.

Russia is vehemently opposed to sanctions and any mention of Chapter 7. Mr Lavrov argued that the British text amounted to support for the rebels and would lead to more bloodshed.

International envoy Kofi Annan contacted several governments on Tuesday and urged the council to postpone yesterday's scheduled vote so members could "unite and take concerted and strong action that would help stem the bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition", his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Mr Annan said yesterday's bombing "only underscores the urgency of decisive council action".

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who was visiting China, also urged the security council to "take collective action, with a sense of unity".

After a phone call from President Barack Obama to Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday afternoon, Russian and US ambassadors met at the United Nations but there was no breakthrough.

Nonetheless, diplomats said there was still a last-minute chance for compromise.

"Who knows where we're going to end up," US ambassador Susan Rice said.

If the Western-backed draft resolution is vetoed, Russia could then put its rival text - which makes no mention of sanctions or Chapter 7 - to a vote. But diplomats said Moscow did not have the minimum nine "yes" votes required for security council approval, so that appears unlikely.

The council is under pressure because the mandate of the 300-strong UN observer force in Syria expires tomorrow and it must decide by then whether to extend it.

If neither the Western nor the Russian texts are approved, the council would then have until tomorrow to decide whether to extend the observer mission.

Diplomats said a simple resolution extending it for perhaps 30 days was the most likely scenario.

The unarmed observers were authorised for 90 days to monitor a ceasefire and implementation of Mr Annan's six-point peace plan. The US and its European allies say that with violence escalating dramatically and the failure to implement the plan, there must be consequences for non-compliance.

But Mr Lavrov said the Western resolution would support the Syrian opposition, which he called "a dead-end policy, because Assad is not leaving voluntarily", according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Diplomats have been scrambling to try to get the security council to unify, which would send a much stronger signal to Syria.

According to the White House, Mr Putin and Mr Obama agreed that the growing violence in Syria showed the need for a political transition as soon as possible - a key demand of the Annan plan. But the Kremlin said it did not agree on the measures that needed to be taken.

Moscow's rival proposal calls for the "immediate implementation" of Mr Annan's plan and guidelines for a political transition approved at a meeting in Geneva last month, but makes no mention of sanctions.

Russia and China have incurred international criticism by twice vetoing UN resolutions to increase pressure on Assad.

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