High-Stakes Showdown Over Syria at the U.N.

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The fight to end the Syrian regime’s brutal 10-month crackdown on protestors moves to the United Nations today following Syria’s rejection last week of the Arab League’s peace plan, which called for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. More than 5,400 civilians have died in the conflict, according to the U.N.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the world’s top diplomats are in New York today for the high-stakes diplomacy session, which they hope will end the deadlock over a resolution pressing for action on Syria.

“The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security,” Clinton said in a statement yesterday. “The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin.”

A draft resolution authored by Morocco and modeled after the Arab League’s peace plan has the support of Secretary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and other top Western diplomats who are in New York, but it faces strong opposition from Russia.

Last October, a Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syria failed after it was vetoed by both Russia and China, who feared it would open up the possibility of military intervention. The current resolution, according to diplomats quoted by The New York Times, makes it clear that Western powers do not intend to intervene militarily, but Russia has said it opposes the call for a transfer of power in Syria.

“The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria does not lead to a search for compromise,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted today. “Pushing this resolution is a path to civil war.”

But as the International Herald Tribune‘s Harvey Morris explains, there are several factors at play in Russia’s staunch opposition to the resolution, including:

  • An increasingly assertive foreign policy from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as he prepares for presidential elections in little over a month’s time
  • Russia’s close strategic and defense ties, including arms transfers, with Syria
  • An attempt to counterbalance U.S. influence in regions of vital strategic interest to Russia.

The Security Council debate is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EST. Watch it live online here.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, answers a question about Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, at the State Department in Washington, after a meeting with Qatar Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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