Syrian Kurds living in Lebanon wave a Syrian revolution flag and chant slogans… (Bilal Hussein / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington and Beirut —
Speaking with an unusually unanimous voice on a divisive issue, the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday approved a statement supporting former Secretary-General Kofi Annan's peacemaking efforts in Syria and the delivery of aid for victims of the violence.
The nonbinding vote included the support of Russia, which has stood in the way of previous council proposals on Syria. Moscow has opposed international intervention in the conflict and has a long-standing alliance with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
China, which has followed Russia's lead on the issue, also joined in the vote.
In the statement, the Security Council called on both the government and the opposition to work "in good faith" with Annan, who met with Assad in Damascus this month in his role as a special envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League. Many diplomats view Annan's mediation as a final chance to avert an all-out civil war in Syria.
Wednesday's statement lacks the legal authority of a Security Council resolution. But the declaration does represent, for the first time, a unified council stance calling on the Syrian government and its opponents to work toward a cease-fire. Russia and China have twice vetoed Security Council measures condemning Assad's handing of the crisis.
A draft resolution vetoed last month would have required Assad to withdraw forces and cede power to his deputy. Russia called that proposal "unbalanced," saying it amounted to a change of government and failed to mandate that Syria's armed rebels cease fire.
At Moscow's insistence, Wednesday's Security Council statement excluded any threat of sanctions or military action against Assad's government. The new declaration says the Security Council will "consider further steps as appropriate" based on reports from Annan.
Moscow viewed the statement as a victory in its campaign to reassert diplomatic influence. Russian officials said they were deceived last year by U.N. action on Libya that resulted in the Western-led bombing campaign that proved decisive in the ouster of leader Moammar Kadafi.
In Berlin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference that he was "very glad" Western and Arab nations seeking Assad's removal "have abandoned ultimatums, have abandoned threats and have abandoned attempts to address the problem by making unilateral demands of the government."
Russia, facing international denunciation for its stance amid continuing bloodshed, has stepped up its criticism of the Syrian regime in recent days, though it continues to oppose any U.N. measure that could provide an international blessing for the use of foreign forces in Syria.
Annan has proposed a series of steps. They include a cease-fire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the launch of a political dialogue between the regime and the Syrian opposition.
The Syrian government has so far shown little appetite for such measures. But the Obama administration and allied world powers hope that pressure from Russia, one of Syria's most important supporters, could change Assad's mind. The opposition, meantime, has generally rejected talks with Assad, except for negotiations that would lead to his ouster.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has harshly condemned Russia's past stances. In comments from Washington, she praised Wednesday's action, saying, "The council has now spoken with one voice."
On the ground in Syria, opposition activists reported new clashes Wednesday in various hot spots, including the suburbs of Damascus, the central provinces of Homs and Hama, and southern Dara. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition network, reported that at least 70 people were killed by security forces. The numbers could not be independently verified because access to Syria is limited.
More than 10,000 people have died in the yearlong conflict, including civilians, armed dissidents and security forces, according to U.N. and Syrian government figures.
Richter reported from Washington and McDonnell from Beirut.