Leaders Try To Break U.N. Deadlock Over Syria

The U.N. Security Council convened Tuesday to discuss the Syrian crisis, but the prospects for a resolution aimed at halting the violence seem dim. Russia is vowing to veto an Arab-backed resolution that calls on President Bashar Assad to step aside to make room for a national unity government.

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Now, the international effort to end the violence in Syria. The head of the Arab League joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations today. They're trying to break a deadlock. The problem is Russia. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution last year to condemn the Syrian government's crackdown, and it doesn't like the new draft currently under consideration.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Though Russia is a major arms supplier to Syria and has close ties to Bashar al-Assad's regime, Western diplomats are hoping Moscow won't want to turn its back on its other friends in the Arab world. So today, Arab officials took the lead, spelling out their proposals for ending the conflict. Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, called for the Security Council's help, saying, through an interpreter, that the Arab League tried for months to resolve this on its own.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: (Through Translator) Our efforts and initiatives, however, have been all useless because the Syrian government failed to make any sincere effort to cooperate with us, and unfortunately, the only solution available to it was to kill its own people. The fact of the matter is that bloodshed continued, and the killing machine is still at work.

KELEMEN: The Arab League is now proposing a political roadmap, calling on President Assad to hand power to a deputy who would then open a dialogue with the opposition, form a unity government and prepare for new elections. The Arab League's secretary general, Nabil el-Araby, urged council members to adopt a resolution endorsing that plan.

Syria's ambassador rejected outside intervention, saying his country can solve its own problems. Russia has raised objections to the Security Council resolution as well but says it's willing to negotiate. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who did not attend today's session, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Russia wants to avoid another Libya.

SERGEI LAVROV: We would be guided by the facts. We would also be guided by the need to avoid taking sides in a situation of internal conflict. The international community unfortunately did take sides in Libya, and we would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya.

KELEMEN: Western diplomats accuse Russia of throwing up straw men. The draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria does not endorse military action and only holds out the prospect of sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it's time for the international community to send a clear message of support for the people of Syria.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: Now, I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council could be headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, and that is exactly what the Arab League has proposed.

KELEMEN: And while Russia's foreign minister argues that countries should drop their, quote, "obsession with regime change and press all sides in Syria to renounce violence," Secretary Clinton blames President Assad for most of the bloodshed.

CLINTON: To date, the evidence is clear that Assad's forces are initiating nearly all of the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime's brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton describes the Arab League plan as the best effort of Syria's neighbors to chart a way forward and says the Security Council should give it a chance to work. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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