Veiled warning of action: UN Council agrees on Syria peace statement
The UN Security Council on Wednesday demanded that Syria "immediately" implement a peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and gave a veiled warning of international action.
Following intense negotiations between the major powers, Russia and China signed up to a Western-drafted text which calls on President Bashar al-Assad to work toward a cessation of hostilities and a democratic transition.
The presidential statement, which carries less weight than a formal resolution, gives strong backing to a six-point plan that Annan put to Assad in talks in Damascus this month.
The council called on "the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal."
It said Annan should regularly update the council on his efforts. "In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate," the statement adds.
The council also "expresses its full support" for Annan's efforts to "facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system" -- which some diplomats said added to political pressure on Annan.
Annan's plan calls for a the government to end the use of "heavy weapons", a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to hostilities, a UN-supervised halt to fighting with the government pulling troops out of protest cities and humanitarian access to all areas affected by the fighting.
In a sign of the new diplomatic urgency over Syria, the Security Council also agreed a press statement, proposed by Russia, which "condemned in the strongest terms" bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo at the weekend.
"They expressed their deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the victims of these heinous acts and to their families," added the statement which pointedly did not send condolences to the government, as it usually does in messages condemning terrorist attacks.
Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions on Syria and their opposition to any tough action against Assad has left the major powers in deadlock on ways to end the bloodshed in Syria, where the UN says well over 8,000 people have been killed in the last year.
Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, stressed that the statement agreed on Wednesday was agreed unanimously by the council, despite its divisions.
"This sends precisely the strong and united message to the Syrian government and all other actors in Syria that they need to respond and respond quickly and immediately to the six point plan," said Lyall Grant, who formally read the statement as president of the council for March.
European countries still want to press for a full binding Security Council resolution on the crisis in Syria however.
French envoy Gerard Araud called the statement "a small step by the Security Council in the right direction."
"A resolution is still on the table and we hope we will manage to obtain a Security Council resolution," Araud told reporters.
There were "very tough" negotiations with Russia and its allies on the text of the statement, a diplomat involved in the talks said.
A lot of the language was toned down with "further measures" within seven days of the statement changed to "further steps" with no deadline.
But Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the Security Council's move.
"The document does not contain any ultimatums, threats or assertions about who is guilty," Lavrov said in Berlin after talks with German leaders.