The United States backs a resolution introduced by Britain that would extend the mission with a caveat: Harsh new sanctions would take effect immediately if a cease-fire did not take hold within 10 days and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces did not withdraw heavy weapons from population areas. The sanctions would come under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
Russia’s competing resolution would extend the mission without the sanctions threat. Chapter 7 is a “red line,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Igor Pankin, said as talks got underway in New York. “Anything can be negotiated, but we do not negotiate this,” he said.
Three hundred monitors were sent under a previous resolution to check compliance with a cease-fire that was only briefly observed by the government and rebel forces. The monitors remain in Syria, but their operations were suspended last month as the violence escalated.
As closed-door discussions began in New York, the Syrian government said it had fired its ambassador to Iraq, who publicly announced his defection to opposition forces Wednesday. Without mentioning the defection, a Foreign Ministry statement said that Ambassador Nawaf al-Fares had “made press statements that contradict the duties of his position . . . [and] left the headquarters of the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad without having obtained prior consent from the Ministry.”
U.S. officials hailed Fares’s action as evidence of what they hope is an incipient flood of high-level splits within the Assad government.
“We do see the pressure building,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Cambodia, where she is attending a meeting of Southeast Asian governments. “Senior military figures from the Syrian army are defecting every week.”
“The economy is in shambles,” Clinton said. “The regime is struggling to hold on to large parts of the country.”
Despite the downward spiral, the international community is still searching for new ways to pressure the Assad government while stopping short of direct intervention.
The new U.S.-backed resolution is designed to speed up the painfully slow diplomatic effort to stop the violence and persuade Russia to abandon Assad and support efforts to install a new unity government.
The U.S. argument to Russia, said a senior Obama administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the ongoing negotiations, is: “How can you possibly want to be in support of a regime that’s shelling Damascus today? Why not do whatever it takes to get the [monitoring] mandate renewed. . . . Help us ratchet up the pressure to do what even you say should be done.”