Ahmed Elbatrawy

Arab League: U.N. talks put pressure on Syria

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United Nations (CNN) — Even a watered-down U.N. Security Council resolution will put pressure on the Syrian government, Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby told CNN Thursday, ahead of renewed talks at the United Nations.

His comments came a day after private discussions by Security Council members about a draft resolution on Syria ended with major differences still apparent but with participants expressing some optimism that an agreement could be reached.

Meanwhile, at least 70 people were killed across Syria on Wednesday, opposition activists said, with more violence reported Thursday.

Negotiations on the draft resolution are expected to resume later in New York. The Moroccan delegation, which submitted the draft, is now working on an edited version of it, Colombian Ambassador Nestor Osorio told reporters Wednesday.

Russia, which has said it is concerned about the prospect of a Syrian civil war and does not want President Bashar al-Assad pushed from power, has signaled it will not accept an arms embargo or economic sanctions.

Asked by CNN’s Hala Gorani whether a resolution that took out references to possible sanctions or political pressure would have any force at all, el-Araby insisted it would.

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“It will still put pressure on the Syrian government, because they realize that Russia cannot stand up forever. And they are under great pressure now. And, you know, Russia does not want to be against the people,” el-Araby said.

Russia has made clear its objections to the draft resolution, el-Araby said.

“They do not want any reference to military intervention and no one is speaking about that. They do not want any reference to sanctions, and no one is speaking about sanctions as such.

“They don’t want the Arab peace plan, which says that the president delegates power to the vice president. We didn’t ask that the president should step down, but only to delegate powers to the vice president.”

The U.N. Security Council is still the best body to tackle the issue, he said, as “the organ vested with the primary responsibility for the peace and security in the world. You cannot go further than that.”

Asked why Libya was seen as a case for international intervention because of the threat of a massacre, whereas Syria has seen thousands of deaths, but no intervention as yet, el-Araby said the reasons came down to the situation on the ground, the geopolitical location of Syria, the fact it has a strong, regular army — “and, maybe, there is no oil in Syria.”

The economic element could be a factor, he suggested, especially in a year when the United States and France are holding presidential elections and when Europe is in the grip of a debt crisis.

El-Araby said he had urged Syria’s leadership to learn the lesson from Egypt, where he was formerly foreign minister, and other nations which have seen popular uprisings.

“Once the people will go the street, you have to yield to their demands,” he said.

Discussions Wednesday included whether to support an Arab League plan that calls on Syria to form a unity government within two months but stops short of supporting military intervention or economic sanctions, Osorio said.

“We have more work to do,” said U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice. “But I think people are in the spirit of rolling up their sleeves and trying to get to work in a serious manner.”

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“I think we have a much better understanding of what needs to be done for us to reach a consensus,” said Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the world body.

“Clearly, there is a desire to get a text that can be adopted in the next few days,” said Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador. “But there’s a lot of difficult issues and we’re not there yet.”

The British delegation said it hoped for a vote this week; the U.S. delegation said it was not a matter of weeks before a vote could be held; and the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was quoted in Paris as saying he hoped for a vote next week.

Earlier this week, Syria’s envoy to the United Nations said the country is the victim of a campaign to distort facts. The Arab League, he said, is interfering with Syrian affairs and has ignored reports from observers inside the country.

“Syria is going through decisive challenges in its history,” Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said. “We want this stage to be through the will of our people, not through the will of anyone else.”

Meanwhile in Syria, opposition groups reported continued violence in cities across the country Thursday.

In the city of Hama, protesters dyed most of the main streets and some buildings in red to mark the 30th anniversary of a notorious 1982 clampdown by the government of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president, the Syrian Revolution General Commission group said.

The authorities mobilized water tanks to wash down the streets, the opposition group said.

The Syrian-based Local Coordination Committees, another opposition group, reported shelling in the town of Jizah and heavy gunfire in north Jouyeh, both in in Daraa province.

In Deir Ezzor province, government security forces carried out a series of raids and arrests, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Five military officers and a conscript, as well as one civilian, were killed in clashes with “armed terrorist groups,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported Thursday.

At least 7,100 people — including 461 children — have died since the start of the Syrian anti-government uprising in March, the Local Coordination Committees said Tuesday.

The United Nations estimated in December that more than 5,000 people have died since March, though it has also said it has been unable to update that figure because of the situation on the ground.

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because access to the country is limited.

CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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Ahmed Elbatrawy