Divisions in the Security Council are blocking progress toward ending the violence in Syria, and any eventual cease-fire will require the presence of an international peacekeeping force, the United Nations envoy for the country said Thursday.
Lakhdar Brahimi said he has the elements for a possible peace plan, but those elements "cannot be put together until the (Security) Council has come together and is ready to adopt a resolution that will be the basis for a political process."
World powers remain divided on how to stop Syria's crisis, with the U.S. and many Arab and European nations calling for President Bashar Assad to step down while Russia, China and Iran continue to back the regime. Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed Security Council resolutions that would pressure Assad, including with the threat of sanctions, to halt the violence, and the U.N.'s most powerful body remains paralyzed.
"It bears repeating that the situation is bad in Syria and getting worse, that unfortunately the parties themselves are not ready to have an internal solution. The region is also not really capable, at this time, of helping for a peaceful solution. The place where a peaceful solution can be initiated is the Security Council," Brahimi told reporters after briefing the council behind closed doors.
Following the meeting, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari blasted Security Council intransigence, blaming the U.S., France and Britain for failing to approve press statements condemning suicide bombings and other attacks carried out by opposition groups. He called it "a sign these countries are deeply involved in the terrorist attacks in Syria."
Brahimi said the elements of an eventual peace process would be based on a plan adopted in Geneva in June by key nations and international organizations that spelled out guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition. He said it would include a transitional governing body with full executive powers and an election, "with a lot of things happening in the middle."
But before that can happen, Brahimi said, the Assad regime and the rebels must stop their fighting.
"No doubt what is very, very urgently needed is a cease-fire that can hold," Brahimi said. "A cease-fire will not hold unless it is very strongly observed, and that, I believe, will require a peacekeeping mission."
A U.N. diplomat inside the council briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity because it was private, said Brahimi specified three "building blocks" — a robust peacekeeping component on the ground which will require a Security Council mandate, a united opposition which many countries are working to establish and a transitional government with executive powers that would ultimately lead to elections.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country supported the Geneva agreement, which has the support of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.
Churkin said Russia was forced to veto a Security Council resolution in support of it because his country "saw it as an attempt to rewrite the Geneva document, making it not an instrument for putting together a dialogue ... but an instrument of further confrontation and building up tensions in Syria." Russia objected to Western attempts to include any kind of pressure on Assad in the draft resolution.
Churkin added that while his country was trying to convince Syria to enter into serious dialogue with the opposition, Russia was very disturbed by political activity outside of Syria, particular the so-called "Doha coalition" — which united many of Syria's disparate anti-government groups under a deal struck in the Qatari capital earlier this month.
"The Doha coalition is suspect in our view because of their political declaration which rules out any contacts with the government and which, in fact, talks about the need to topple the government," he said. "We're concerned about those who hasten to recognize the Doha coalition as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people."
Churkin's comments came as officials said the Obama administration was preparing to recognize Syria's new opposition council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the coming weeks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Announcement of the U.S. move — which has already been taken by several European and Arab allies — is planned on or around a conference of the Friends of Syria, comprising more than 70 nations, in Morocco on Dec. 12.
The new status is expected to be accompanied by pledges of additional humanitarian and nonlethal logistical support for the opposition, but it is unlikely to result in U.S. military assistance, at least in the short term.
According to activists, at least 40,000 people have been killed in the civil war since March 2011.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer, Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report from the United Nations.