Security Council agrees on Damascus statement

Security Council agrees on Damascus statement

Security Council agrees on Damascus statement

UN chief Ban (L) and Russian FM Lavrov pose for a photograph in New York March 12. Lavrov made clear that Moscow fully supported the UN statement. REUTERS photo

The previously divided U.N. Security Council sent a strong and united message to the Syrian government and opposition yesterday to immediately implement proposals by joint U.N.-Arab envoy Kofi Annan to end the yearlong bloodshed.

A nonbinding statement approved by the 15 council members and read at a formal meeting spells out Annan’s proposals which include a cease-fire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks “to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people.” In a bid to win support from Russia and China, which have twice vetoed European and U.S.-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters, France watered down the statement to eliminate consideration of “further measures” which could include sanctions or military action.

Instead, the presidential statement now asks Annan to update the council regularly on the progress of his mission and says that “in the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.” 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.

Clinton warns Assad to implement UN plan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday praised the U.N. statement and warned al-Assad to carry out the peace plan or face “increasing pressure.” Clinton said that the U.N. Security Council has taken “a positive step.”

“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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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. Meanwhile, Japan’s foreign ministry yesterday said it would close its embassy in Syria, citing deteriorating security conditions.

On the ground on March 20, fresh clashes broke out in the capital and security forces killed at least 30 people, all but two of them civilians, in violence elsewhere across the country, activists said.

Syrian forces yesterday blasted the rebel-held Khaldiyeh district of Homs city with rockets and shells for a second straight day,” activists said. Meanwhile, Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, al-Qaida-inspired group, claimed responsibility for last weekend’s suicide bombings in Damascus to avenge the Syrian regime’s “massacre of Sunnis,” in a statement posted online yesterday.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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