UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An Arab-backed resolution calling for a political transition in Syria and strongly condemning the regime's escalating use of heavy weapons and "gross violations" of human rights was circulated Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly, but key Syria ally Russia urged other countries to vote "no."
In an important related development, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will continue in the post after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked him to stay, the deputy U.N. secretary-general said. Brahimi had told U.N. staff and diplomats in recent weeks that he wanted to resign because his efforts to find a political solution to the conflict have failed.
The Arab group decided to seek approval of a wide-ranging resolution on Syria in the 193-member assembly, where there are no vetoes, to reflect international dismay at the increasing death toll, now more than 70,000, and the failure to end the more than two-year-old conflict.
A General Assembly resolution also would counter the paralysis of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council, where Russia and Syria ally China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad to end the violence. Unlike Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding, General Assembly resolutions cannot be enforced. But if they are approved, especially by a large majority, they reflect world opinion and can carry moral weight.
The draft resolution, circulated by Qatar and obtained by The Associated Press, would promote the roadmap for a Syrian transition adopted at a meeting on June 30, 2012 in Geneva by key nations including the five veto-wielding council powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. It calls for a political process that would start with the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers and end with elections — but there has been no agreement on how to implement the roadmap, which would require Assad to relinquish power at some unspecified point.
Diplomats said the assembly will vote on the resolution on May 15. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Russia urged members to vote "no," warning that approval could torpedo a new U.S.-Russian initiative to promote a political transition in Syria.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country is the most important ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, called the draft resolution "one-sided and biased." He said it is also "counterproductive" given the understanding reached by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow on Tuesday on a follow-up international meeting on a political transition.
Churkin urged "all responsible members of the international community" to "vigorously contribute more than ever to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis" based on the 2012 Geneva communique. He warned that introducing and supporting the Arab-backed draft resolution "will be a serious blow to all attempts to bring the Syrian sides to the negotiating table and let them decide on a peaceful future of their own country."
Brahimi's decision to stay on as the Syrian envoy followed the Moscow announcement.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Ban had asked Brahimi to remain in his post, "and he has accepted to stay on."
Eliasson commended the U.S. and Russia for their agreement, and Brahimi called it "the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time." Brahimi cautioned in a statement Wednesday, however, that it was "only a first step."
The draft resolution stresses that "rapid progress on a political transition represents the best opportunity" to resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully.
It would reiterate the General Assembly's call "for an inclusive Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs." It says this should be done by starting "a serious political dialogue between credible, empowered, and mutually acceptable interlocutors representing the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition."
The draft welcomes the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, and notes "the wide international acknowledgment" that it is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations on the text were private, said the wording was changed to address concerns by some countries that the original draft would have the entire assembly endorsing the Syrian National Coalition.
The proposed resolution is a follow-up to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly last August which overwhelmingly denounced Syria's crackdown on dissent, including by military intelligence services and militias. The original draft called for Assad to resign, but it was watered down after objections by some members.
The draft circulated Thursday strongly condemns the continued escalation in the Syrian regime's use of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and aircraft, as well as the use of ballistic missiles, cluster munitions and other weapons against populated areas.
It expresses "grave concern at the threat by the Syrian authorities to use chemical or biological weapons, as well as at allegations of reported use of such weapons." It demands that Syria "strictly observe" international laws prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons and refrains from transferring such weapons "to non-state actors."
Syria has said if it had such weapons, it would never use them against its own people.
Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this report from the United Nations.