UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to send a message to the Syrian government and the opposition that there will be "consequences" if they don't comply with demands for an immediate cease-fire, a U.N. diplomat said.
Russia and China, key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad and veto-wielding council members, have blocked repeated attempts by the United States and its European allies to even threaten "consequences" — a diplomatic code word for sanctions.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because Annan's videoconference briefing from Geneva was at a closed session, said the council should insist on implementation of its resolutions which included a strong endorsement of his six-point peace plan.
That plan calls for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas by the Syrian government to be followed by an opposition cessation of hostilities.
The U.N. sent a 300-strong unarmed observer mission for 90 days to oversee the cessation of violence and monitor implementation of the Annan plan. It was forced to withdraw from key conflict areas because of the escalating fighting and the council must decide what to do about extending its mandate which expires on July 20.
Another U.N. diplomat said U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council the ceiling of 300 observers should remain and the U.N. should decide on their deployment. A third diplomat said the peacekeeping department plans temporarily withdraw half of them, on 48-hour standby to return if conditions change.
They also spoke on condition of anonymity because Annan spoke behind closed doors.
On the eve of Annan's briefing, Russia circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members that would extend the U.N. observer force in Syria but refocus its activities on trying to achieve a political solution to the conflict.
Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United States have also been drafting possible texts for a new resolution but were waiting to hear what Annan had to say. Diplomats said a Western text will likely be circulated either later Wednesday or Thursday.
Annan briefed the council on his talks with Assad in Damascus and his visits to Iran and Iraq.
He told reporters in Tehran and Baghdad on Tuesday that Assad agreed to a plan to contain the bloodshed in the most violent areas of Syria step by step and then expand the operation to the whole country.
"I believe that if everyone works on it seriously then it could work," Annan said in Baghdad. "We are also ... going to discuss this with the opposition on the ground."
But several U.N. diplomats raised concerns about this new approach, citing the Security Council's unanimous endorsement of Annan's six-point peace plan and questioning whether targeting places of extreme violence would mean targeting opposition strongholds.
The conflict in Syria has defied every international attempt to bring peace, and there was no sign that the plan Annan described Tuesday would be a breakthrough. Although the Assad government's crackdown has turned the Syrian president into an international pariah, he still has the support of strong allies including Russia, Iran and China.
There is little support for military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and several rounds of sanctions by the U.S. and European nations, and other attempts to isolate Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed. More than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to Syrian activists.
In Moscow on Wednesday, a prominent Syrian opposition leader said Russia's resistance to international intervention in the conflict was bringing misery and "suffering" to the violence-torn country.
Two Syrian opposition delegations visited Moscow this week, raising hopes that Russia could be pushed to accept Assad's ouster but Syrian National Council head Abdelbaset Sieda said he saw "no change" in Moscow's stance after meeting with officials including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
"The Syrian people are suffering because of Russia, because of the position it has taken, because of its veto in the U.N. Security Council," Sieda said at a news conference. "The current regime uses Russian weapons against its own people."
Sieda called for intervention by the U.N. and said no dialogue with the regime was possible until Assad was ousted.
Russia strongly opposes international intervention and says that if Assad goes, it must be as the result of dialogue.
At a conference in Geneva last month, Russia insisted that any political transition must have the "mutual consent" of both Assad's government and the opposition, essentially handing a veto on the peacemaking process to both sides.
Lavrov on Wednesday repeated Russia's support for non-intervention, and insisted that any solution would have to be decided by "Syrians themselves," and not by any foreign power.
Lavrov also expressed doubt that the fragmented Syrian opposition was ready to act as a real partner for dialogue with the regime. After a meeting on Monday with members of the Syrian Democratic Forum, another opposition group, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed the need for "the Syrian opposition to act on one platform."
Associated Press Writers Laura Mills in Moscow and Ron DePasquale at the United Nations contributed to this report