West presses for Syria sanctions, Russia rejects
05/30/2012 19:53 GMT
by Andre Viollaz
UNITED NATIONS, May 30, 2012 (AFP) - Western nations on Wednesday demanded increased pressure on Syria amid heightened outrage over two massacres in five days, but Russia maintained its opposition to sanctions.
The United States, France, Britain and Germany all came out of a UN Security Council meeting on the worsening crisis urging measures up to sanctions by the 15-nation body.
All governments are increasingly concerned as the Syria death toll piles up and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus this week with no apparent concessions from President Bashar al-Assad. The growing divisions are over the answer.
US ambassador Susan Rice said the slaughter of 108 people in Houla on Friday was a sign that "we may be beginning to see the wheels coming off of this bus."
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous gave the council details of the 13 bodies found late Tuesday near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria -- nearly all killed execution-style.
Rice told reporters that prospects for a political solution were now almost non-existent, and that the Security Council must now discuss new action against Syria.
"That pressure could include sanctions of the sort that have been alluded to and discussed, and we were among those that raised that possibility," she said.
Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig said he had proposed sanctions against the "spoilers" who are undermining Annan's six-point peace plan.
"We called for a strengthening of sanctions on the Damascus regime," said France's deputy ambassador Martin Briens. "That is what we are going to discuss in coming days."
Russia has already blocked two UN Security Council resolutions in the past year which had only hinted at sanctions, and reaffirmed Wednesday that it would not accept a new resolution.
"Our attitude to sanctions continues to be negative," said Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
Churkin said he had told the Security Council that sanctions already applied by the European Union and United States "are having a very severe effect on the Syrian population."
Annan is to come to New York to brief the Security Council on June 7. But talks on sanctions and any other action will take much longer and are now set to be taken up between governments and at international summits.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is to visit Berlin and Paris on Thursday and Friday. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's President Francois Hollande are both expected to raise sanctions.
Syria is also set to become a key topic at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico in June and other international meetings.
"We need to explore with the Russians, but also other members of the council, what further steps, now, the council needs to take to increase the pressure on all parties, but particularly the Syrian government," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
Syria "has blatantly violated" the commitments it made, said Rice. "And I think it's quite clear, as we've said for many weeks, if they continued to do so, there should be consequences."
Diplomats at the closed briefing by Annan's deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, and the UN peacekeeping chief Ladsous, said there had been a "very somber" account of the Houla massacre and other violence.
Guehenno said he told the council that the government and opposition "need to recommit" to a cessation of violence negotiated by Annan and which officially started April 12.
"We have seen that this cessation of violence is under threat. Today, as the stronger partner, the government needs to take steps to this end, but it is also vital that the armed opposition be ready to adhere to a full cessation of violence," Guehenno told reporters in Geneva.
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