Last updated: 18 July, 2012

UN Council postpones Syria sanctions vote

International envoy Kofi Annan on Wednesday pleaded with the UN Security Council to take “decisive” action on the Syria conflict after persuading the divided major powers to postpone a vote on a sanctions resolution.

Annan intervened a few hours before the scheduled vote on the western-backed resolution which Russia has vowed to veto. But with no new diplomatic proposals emerging, a new vote was called for Thursday.

The UN-Arab League envoy spoke to key governments and “urged members of the Security Council to unite and take concerted and strong action that would help stem the bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition,” said Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.

Annan believes the latest violence “only underscores the urgency of decisive council action.” A Damascus bomb attack on Wednesday killed at least three members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.

The appeal by Annan and the Damascus attack however did little to ease tensions on the 15-member Security Council.

Russia maintained a threat to veto any resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for the toughest action.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone but a Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that “differences in approaches remain” over the Syria conflict.

While acknowledging the differences, the White House said the two leaders had agreed to “continue to work towards a solution.”

The British resolution, backed by the United States, France, Germany and Portugal, calls for non-military sanctions to be ordered against Assad if he does not withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian cities.

“We will be voting tomorrow morning,” said Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

The western envoys said they had agreed to Annan’s request for a delay but there had been no new talks as Russia had made no new proposal.

“We cannot accept Chapter VII and the section about sanctions,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia and China, using their powers as permanent council members, have twice vetoed previous resolutions hinting at sanctions against Damascus.

“We have very clearly said to our Russian and Chinese friends, we are ready to negotiate,” said France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud.

“The framework is well-defined. It is a Chapter VII resolution with a threat of sanctions. We consider the situation is serious enough in Damascus and in Syria that we move towards this goal,” he told reporters.

“We want to give diplomacy a chance but there has to be meaningful engagement on the side of Russia and China with our resolution,” Germany’s UN envoy Peter Wittig told reporters.

“We just don’t want business as usual. We want a strong signal with that resolution and the events in Damascus today of course dramatically highlight the need for the council to act at long last,” Wittig added.

“Syria is sliding into chaos,” said the German envoy.

The mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) ends on Friday and without a resolution, the UN may have to hurriedly withdraw the nearly 300 unarmed observers now in Damascus.

More than 17,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Assad began 16 months ago, activists say.