European Nations Seek U.N. Condemnation of Syria

Key European nations circulated a draft United Nations resolution Wednesday that would condemn Syria for its crackdown on peaceful protesters and appeal for an end to the violence, U.N. diplomats said.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal sent the draft text to all other members on the 15-nation Security Council, several diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Council experts were scheduled to meet Thursday morning to discuss the draft, the diplomats said.

The Europeans, backed by the United States, had tried to get council agreement on a press statement condemning the Syrian violence last month. But that requires unanimity, and at a council meeting April 27, Russia was clearly opposed while China and India called for dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the crisis, with no mention of condemnation.

By contrast, Security Council resolutions are put to a vote. To be adopted, a resolution needs nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member -- Russia, China, the U.S., Britain and France.

Portugal's U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral underlined "the importance of council unity" and "sending a clear message" to Syria.

"I am fairly confident of nine (yes) votes," Moraes Cabral told a group of reporters. "I don't underestimate the complex issues involved in approval."

Syria's U.N. ambassador was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The resolution was circulated a day before leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations -- which includes all the permanent council members except China -- meet in Deauville, France, for their annual summit.

U.N. diplomats said they expect the violence in Syria and the draft resolution to be discussed by the leaders in Deauville, probably on Friday morning during their session on the "Arab Spring."

The Syrian government's deadly crackdown has killed more than 1,000 people over the past two months, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which helps organize the protests against President Bashar Assad, said Wednesday.

Although Assad has promised reforms, he appears determined to crush the revolt that is posing the most serious challenge to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty. The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

Several U.N. diplomats said the draft resolution notes the government's intention to take steps toward reform, but also regrets that it has not responded to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

It demands that the Syrian government release prisoners of conscience, allow genuine political participation, and lift the siege of the southern agricultural city of Daraa, where protesters have taken to the streets in calls for reforms and political freedoms, as well as other towns, the diplomats said.

The draft resolution also calls on the government to provide unhindered access for humanitarian aid, lift restrictions on the media, launch an investigation to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on peaceful demonstrators, and to cooperate fully with an investigation of the violence by the U.N. Human Rights Council, the diplomats said.

After the Security Council failed to agree on a press statement, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a speech on May 4 that he had instructed diplomats at Britain's U.N. Mission "to begin discussions with our partners at the U.N. in New York to seek U.N. condemnation of the situation in Syria." Diplomats said the draft resolution circulated Wednesday is a result of those discussions.

More than 220 civil society organizations from across the Arab world appealed to the Security Council this week to adopt a resolution demanding an immediate end to the use of lethal force against protesters in Syria.

"We believe that the silence of the U.N. Security Council sends the wrong message and fails to deter further violence and human rights abuses by the Syrian authorities," read a letter the groups sent to the 15 council ambassadors.