Russia threatens to veto tough UN Syria resolution
Russia said on Thursday it would veto a Western-backed UN Security Council draft resolution threatening sanctions on Syria if it comes to a vote, as 16 months of violence claimed another 45 lives.
"If they decide this (a vote on Thursday), knowing that for us the text is unacceptable, then we will not allow it to pass," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
But Gatilov said he did not expect a vote so soon, as "the process of consultations is only just starting and should take some time."
"As a whole, their resolution is unbalanced and foresees that obligations should only be fulfilled by the Syrian government. Practically nothing is said about the obligations of the opposition," he said.
Britain, France, Germany and the United States have submitted a draft text that would give President Bashar al-Assad 10 days to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's ceasefire plan or face tough new sanctions.
If the Security Council were to approve it, the resolution would allow for non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Syrian government forces keep up their offensive on cities.
Negotiations on the draft and a rival Russian resolution, which does not mention sanctions, started in New York on Thursday. A vote must be held before July 20, when the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria ends.
Gatilov objected to the draft linking an extension of that mandate, which Russia supports, with the introduction of sanctions if Damascus does not fulfil certain conditions.
Meanwhile, the White House said the defection on Wednesday of a senior Syrian diplomat is a sign that Assad's regime is weakening.
"I can confirm that the Syrian ambassador to Iraq defected," said spokesman Jay Carney, branding Nawaf Fares' decision to join the revolt "another sign of the desperation that is enveloping the Assad regime."
Fares announced that he was joining a small but growing list of officials who have defected as the regime battles a near 16-month-old uprising.
"I call on all free and worthy people in Syria, particularly in the military, to immediately rejoin the ranks of the revolution," Fares said in a message aired on Al-Jazeera television.
He has since taken refuge in Qatar, Iraq has said.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a top officer who defected last week, General Manaf Tlass, has been in contact with Syria's opposition.
-- Sanctions 'a red line' --
"I know that there is some closeness between the opposition and this general... contacts have been made," Fabius told journalists, without confirming that Tlass was in Paris as believed.
In the latest violence, 45 people were killed nationwide on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
And Lebanese security sources said Syrian troops shelled areas bordering northern and eastern Lebanon after firefights, adding that at least four people were wounded inside Lebanon.
Russia made clear from the outset that sanctions were a "red line" for veto-wielding Moscow.
"Anything can be negotiated but we do not negotiate this. This is a red line," Russia's deputy UN ambassador Igor Pankin told reporters at the Security Council.
Russia and China have previously twice used their powers as permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions which hinted at sanctions.
The draft calls for an "immediate" end to violence by government and opposition forces and demands that Assad's troops return to barracks in line with the Annan plan and UN resolutions passed in April.
The resolution would renew the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for 45 days, and calls on the mission to take on more political duties, moving away from monitoring a non-existent ceasefire.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on an Asian tour, coordinated with China on moves to support the peace plan drawn up by Annan, who has said the UN motion should include "clear consequences" if Damascus fails to act.
"I had a good discussion on these issues with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang (Jiechi) today and we agreed to do all we can in New York to see the Geneva plan... be implemented," she said.
World powers agreed in Geneva last month a plan for a transition in Syria which did not make an explicit call for Assad to quit power. However the West swiftly made clear it saw no role for him in a unity government.
"We do look to the Security Council and all its members, including Russia, to join us in a serious resolution that gives special envoy Kofi Annan what he needs, what he's asking for and imposes real consequences on the regime for continuing to defy its obligations," Clinton said.
The regime and the opposition publicly accept Annan's peace plan, but fighting has raged on and rights monitors estimate that more than 17,000 Syrians have died since March 2011.
In another development, Human Rights Watch said Syrian troops appear to have used Soviet-made cluster bombs against rebel hideouts in a mountainous region of Hama province.
© 2012 AFP