UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council Wednesday adopted a presidential statement strongly supporting UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to try to end Syria’s year-long unrest.
The statement said Syria will face “further steps” if Annan’s six-point peace proposal is rejected. The plan calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and access for humanitarian aid agencies.
A presidential statement, which needs approval from all council members, becomes part of the council’s permanent record. It is stronger than a press statement, which does not. But unlike resolutions, neither statement is legally binding.
Russia and China had called the earlier resolutions unbalanced, saying they demanded an end only to government attacks, not ones by the opposition. Moscow also argued that the resolutions promoted regime change in Syria and expressed fear of outside intervention to support the rebels, as happened in Libya.
“The most important (thing) is that there are no ultimate demands there, there are no threats, and no theses which would predetermine who carries more guilt,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said of the statement in Berlin, where he met his German counterpart.
France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said, “It’s not a question of threat or of ultimatum. We are expressing our support to Mr. Kofi Annan.”
Germany’s UN Ambassador Peter Wittig and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice expressed hope that agreement on the statement would lead to greater unity in the council on Syria, where well over 8,000 people have died in violence over the past year, according to the UN
“We hope that this will change the dynamic on the ground,” Wittig said. “This is a newly found unity of the council which we welcome after this rather sad track record of the two double-vetoes in the past, and it shows nobody can really have an interest of mayhem in the region.”
Rice called the presidential statement “a modest step … forward” and urged Syrian authorities “to respond swiftly and positively.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the Syria crisis is the most pressing issue facing the world.
“We have no time to waste, no time to lose. Just one minute, one hour delay will mean more and more people dead,” Ban told reporters in the Indonesian city of Bogor, his first stop on an Asian tour.
One of the sticking points for as formal resolution among Russia, Syria and the West is the sequencing of a cease-fire. Syria says the opposition must lay down its arms first. Russia says the government and opposition must stop fighting simultaneously. Western countries insist that since the Syrian forces started fighting first and are responsible for most of the killings, they must stop first.
According to AFP, Japan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday said it would close its embassy in Syria, citing deteriorating security conditions amid a brutal crackdown on anti-government protestors.
A ministry statement said the embassy, which had already been reducing its operations since earlier this month, will continue to operate out of Japan’s diplomatic compound in neighbouring Jordan.
“We have decided to temporarily close the Japanese embassy in Syria as of today due to worsening public safety conditions in Syria, including the capital Damascus,” it said.
The ministry added that Japan was continuing to urge its nationals to avoid travel to the violence-wracked nation.
A number of countries have already curtailed their diplomatic activities in Damascus, including the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland.
Syria has called on Tunisia and Libya to close their embassies in the capital, after they ordered Syrian officials to leave Tunis and Tripoli.
The Japanese embassy closure came as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday the organisation was aiming to end the violence in Syria while starting political dialogue and providing humanitarian aid.
Fighting broke out in Damascus on Tuesday while clashes elsewhere in the country killed at least 30 people — all but two of them civilians — the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has ignored the chorus of international condemnation against a brutal government crackdown to crush the uprising, in which rights activists say more than 9,100 people have died.
Western powers on Tuesday agreed to change a proposed UN Security Council statement on Syria after Russia refused to back any “ultimatum” to the embattled president, the latest chapter in the year-old crisis.
A security clampdown in the capital followed what activists said was a hit-and-run attack in the heavily guarded Mazzeh neighbourhood on Monday that killed at least three rebels and a member of the security forces.
It also came on the heels of deadly twin suicide car bombings targeting security buildings in Damascus on Saturday.
Syria blamed the bombings on “armed terrorist gangs” which it holds responsible for the bloodshed, while it has also pointed to an Al-Qaeda role in the violence.
Opposition activists have accused the Damascus regime of stage-managing attacks such as the car bombings to cause inter-sectarian strife.
Human Rights Watch said Syria’s armed opposition has also carried out serious human rights abuses during the pro-democracy uprising, including the kidnapping, torture and execution of security force members and government supporters.
The United States has called on Syria’s opposition to respect human rights but said abuses were not comparable to those by the regime.