Proposed UN resolution backs transition in Syria

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An Arab-backed resolution calling for a political transition in Syria and strongly condemning the regime’s escalating use of heavy weapons and “gross violations” of human rights was circulated Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly.

And the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will continue in the post after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked him to stay, the deputy U.N. secretary-general said. Brahimi had told U.N. staff and diplomats in recent weeks that he wanted to resign because his efforts to find a political solution to the conflict have failed.

The Arab group decided to seek approval of a wide-ranging resolution on Syria in the 193-member assembly, where there are no vetoes, to reflect international dismay at the increasing death toll, now more than 70,000, and the failure to end the more than two-year-old conflict.

A General Assembly resolution also would counter the paralysis of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council, where Syrian allies Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad to end the violence. Unlike Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding, General Assembly resolutions cannot be enforced. But if they are approved, especially by a large majority, they reflect world opinion and can carry moral weight.

The draft resolution, circulated by Qatar and obtained by The Associated Press, would promote the roadmap for a Syrian transition adopted at a meeting on June 30, 2012 by key nations including the five veto-wielding council powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. It calls for a political process that would start with the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers and end with elections — but there has been no agreement on how to implement it, which would require Assad to relinquish power at some unspecified point.

The draft resolution would reiterate the General Assembly’s call “for an inclusive Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs.” It says this should be done by starting “a serious political dialogue between credible, empowered, and mutually acceptable interlocutors representing the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition.”

The draft stresses that “rapid progress on a political transition represents the best opportunity” to resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully.

The draft welcomes the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, and notes “the wide international acknowledgment” that it is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations on the text were private, said the wording was changed to address concerns by some countries that the original draft would have the entire assembly endorsing the Syrian National Coalition.

The draft resolution also reaffirms support for Brahimi’s mission and demands that all parties work with him to rapidly implement the transition plan in a safe and calm atmosphere. It says the plan should have “a fixed timeframe” and establish a consensus transitional governing body with full executive powers of the president and government, including those pertaining to military, security and intelligence issues.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Thursday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had asked Brahimi to remain in his post, “and he has accepted to stay on.”

Brahimi’s decision follows a joint U.S.-Russian announcement earlier this week that a new international conference will be held to follow up on the Geneva roadmap for a political transition.

Eliasson commended the U.S. and Russia for their decision, and Brahimi called it “the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time.” Brahimi cautioned in a statement Wednesday, however, that it was “only a first step.”

The proposed resolution is a follow-up to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly last August which overwhelmingly denounced Syria’s crackdown on dissent, including by military intelligence services and militias. The original draft called for Assad to resign, but it was watered down after objections by some members.

The draft circulated Thursday strongly condemns the continued escalation in the Syrian regime’s use of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and aircraft, as well as the use of ballistic missiles, cluster munitions and other weapons against populated areas.

It expresses “grave concern at the threat by the Syrian authorities to use chemical or biological weapons, as well as at allegations of reported use of such weapons.” It demands that Syria “strictly observe” international laws prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons and refrains from transferring such weapons “to non-state actors.”

Syria has said if it had such weapons, it would never use them against its own people.

Syria accused the rebels of using chemical weapons in Aleppo on March 19 and called for a U.N. investigation. Ban agreed and established an investigation team which he said should also investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Homs on Dec. 23 raised by Britain and France. To date, Syria has refused a broader investigation.

The draft resolution demands that Syrian authorities grant “full and unfettered access” to the investigation team.

In the only oblique reference to attacks by the opposition, the draft resolution condemns “all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and calls upon all parties to immediately put an end to all forms of violence, including terrorist acts and acts of violence or intimidation that may foment sectarian tensions.”

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Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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