Western powers step up pressure for UN condemnation of Syria

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Western powers on Tuesday stepped up moves for a UN Security Council vote condemning Syria's crackdown on opposition protests, despite strong opposition from Russia and China.

France, Britain and the United States are considering pressing for a vote by the 15-member Security Council on a resolution that could embarrass Russia and China by forcing them into a veto.

"The repression is getting worse, the massacres are on the rise. It is inconceivable that the United Nations remains silent about such a situation," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday at the UN headquarters.

He said France and Britain are seeking "as large a majority as possible" at the Security Council. "I think we will have to go to a vote so that everyone can take their responsibilities."

Juppe said Monday the European powers believed they could get 11 votes in favor of a UN resolution. "We'll see what the Russians will do."

European diplomats had previously expressed confidence of winning at least nine votes and they are believed to be in close talks with South Africa and Brazil.

Syria's ambassador to Paris resigned on Tuesday in protest at the violence in the country and Britain added to the pressure saying President Bashar al-Assad should reform or resign.

"President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament.

"Obviously events over the weekend and yesterday were very serious and in our view the Security Council should take cognizance of that," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the campaign to secure a UN resolution.

"We are looking at our text to adapt it, obviously, to recent events and we will be seeing whether there is any shift among those few countries who have so far been opposing it.

"If as I hope there is some sign of movement we will be putting it to a vote quickly," Lyall Grant told reporters.

The current draft, drawn up by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal, condemns the crackdown by Assad's regime and warns the violence could constitute crimes against humanity.

Russia and China have strongly opposed the resolution during expert level talks among Security Council diplomats.

China reaffirmed its opposition on Tuesday.

"We are concerned about the situation in Syria but we do not think that involvement of the council will help the situation there," said China's UN ambassador Li Baodong.

The five permanent council member countries -- Russia, Britain, France, the United States and China -- have the power to veto any resolution.

Juppe, speaking in Washington before a visit to the UN headquarters on Tuesday, said if Russia vetoes, "they will take their responsibility."

"Maybe if they see that there are 11 votes in favor of the resolution, they will change their mind. So there is a risk to take, and we're ready to take it," Juppe stressed, noting he had discussed the moves with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"We know that Russia probably would veto any resolution about Syria, even a mild one, as is the text that we are proposing with the British and the Americans," Juppe added.

Syria is Russia's closest ally in the Middle East. It has a naval base at Tartus in Syria.

Russia and China are also angry at the West for the air campaign in Libya that was launched after the UN Security Council approved action to protect civilians against Moamer Kadhafi's forces.

Russia, China, India and others say the air strikes go beyond the action approved by the UN resolutions on Libya.

© 2011 AFP

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