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U.N. fails to agree on condemning Syria

UNITED NATIONS (AP) ― The deeply divided U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a European and U.S.-backed statement condemning Syrian violence against peaceful protesters on Wednesday, with Russia saying security forces were also killed and the actions don’t threaten international peace.

“A real threat to regional security in our view could arise from outside interference in Syria’s domestic situation including attempts to push ready-made solutions or taking of sides,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin warned the U.N.’s most powerful body during a public session that followed, saying this could lead to civil war.

“It is extremely important to focus all attempts on avoiding such a dangerous turn of events, especially as Syria is a cornerstone of the Middle East security architecture,” he said.

“Destabilizing this significant link in the chain will lead to complications throughout the region.”

China and India called for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, with no mention of condemnation.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said the turbulence in the Mideast and North Africa has also “dealt a big blow to the stability in this region.”

If the underlying issues aren’t addressed, he warned, “they will jeopardize peace and stability in other regions. They would also have a major negative impact on the recovery of the world economy.”

Lebanon’s U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam stressed the country’s special relationship with Syria, saying “the hearts and minds” of the Lebanese people are with the Syrian people and are supporting President Bashar Assad’s lifting of the state of emergency and reforms.

France, Britain, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft media statement on Monday calling for the 15-member council to condemn the violence. But during consultations Wednesday afternoon, several members were opposed so at the request of the Europeans and the U.S., the Security Council then moved into open session to hear a briefing from the U.N. political chief and statements from council members.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari welcomed the council’s inaction and questioned the “unprecedented enthusiasm” by some members for the statement and a “lack of such enthusiasm” for attempting to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Syrian ambassador blamed the violence on “extremist groups whose fundamental objective is clearly the fall of the Syrian government” and said law enforcement had acted with the “utmost restraint” to prevent the killing of civilians. He waved a list of 51 members of the armed forces he said were killed “by armed gangs.”

He said the campaign by extremists began as information surfaced of outside parties “financing acts of sabotage.” He pointed to a report of the U.S. government financing an opposition satellite television station and opposition figures bent on ousting Assad.

Ja’afari defended the government’s reforms, said more will come and that the government had detained members of “extremist circles” in Daraa, the city at the heart of the Syrian uprising, and confiscated sophisticated weapons including machine-guns. He said those detained admitted their crimes and said they received “large sums for their acts.”

But U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe and the United States and the Europeans painted a very different picture of events.

Pascoe told the council that “a review of the reports of media, international human rights groups, U.N. agencies and diplomatic missions confirm that the overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful and unarmed.”

“However, there have been credible reports of a very few instances where protesters have used force, resulting in the deaths of members of the security forces,” said Pascoe.

He said Human Rights Watch documented just one with eyewitness testimony, on April 8 in Daraa.

“There are no confirmed reports that this is a recurring phenomenon,” he said, “neither do we have confirmation of reports of security personnel or soldiers being killed by government agents.

Some of the overall confusion on this sensitive issue may stem from the widely reported presence of armed security agents and regime supporters in civilian clothes.”

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice again accusing Syria of “casting blame on outsiders” instead of responding to legitimate calls for reforms from the Syrian people. She reiterated that Iran is supporting the Syrian crackdown using “the same brutal tactics” it did against its own people.

The U.S. and the Europeans warned that unless the Syrian demands for reform are heeded quickly, they will be pressing for additional sanctions.