UK & World News
UN Considers Syria Sanctions Over Weapons
UN Security Council members are considering a draft resolution that threatens the use of sanctions against Syria if President Assad fails to stop using heavy weapons against his people.
The draft, a copy of which has been seen by Sky News Online, sets a deadline of ten days for the Syrian army to "cease troop movements towards population centres ? cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres ? withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks ?to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence".
The text, authored by the UK and supported by France, America and Germany, was submitted in response to a briefing by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan on Wednesday.
Mr Annan asked the Council to exert collective pressure on the Syrian government to comply with his six point peace plan for the country, and send a clear message to President Assad that there will be consequences if he does not.
At a press conference after the closed briefing, Mr Annan said: "If the Council speaks with one voice, that voice is much more powerful than when it is divided."
But Russia said it disagreed with the threat of sanctions, also known as a "Chapter 7 measure", saying such a threat should only be used "as a last resort".
Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN Alexander Pankin also said that Mr Annan did not specifically request the use of sanctions or any other Chapter 7 measure.
One Western diplomat admitted to Sky News Online that it would be "very tough" to get Russia to agree to the current text.
Another said that he was "not willing to be that optimistic", given Russia and China's two previous vetoes on Syria resolutions.
However the UK and its allies feel strongly that they must try to act now, even with a high risk of failure, to end the violence that the UN says has killed at least 15,000 people.
The deeply divided council must also agree on what to do about the current UN observer mission in Syria (UNSMIS), whose current mandate expires on July 20.
At the moment operations are suspended and most members of its 300-strong staff are confined to hotels.
The British draft resolution includes a provision to extend the operation by 45 days.
Russia, arguably Syria's most important ally, is set on keeping it going, and earlier submitted a draft resolution to the Council that dealt just with that specific issue.
Privately, Western diplomats believe Russia is supportive of the mission because its presence in Syria buys President Assad time to engineer a safe exit or tighten his grip on power.
There is hope that Russia's position gives Western allies on the Security Council some unaccustomed leverage over Moscow, allowing them to at least discuss the idea of threatening sanctions.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said: "We think that a simple rollover of UNSMIS without the Council being clear that it is prepared to put the full political weight that we have behind these observers on the ground and behind implementation of the Annan plan, is insufficient.
"It will not accomplish the goals that we all seek."
Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja'afari said that countries raising the threat of sanctions were not helping efforts to end the conflict and risked derailing the Annan plan altogether.