UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States, Britain and European allies said on Thursday they would draft a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution on Syria, which accused Washington of waging diplomatic war against it.
The latest threat by Western powers on the 15-nation council comes after five months of an increasingly brutal Syrian government crackdown against protesters seeking an end to the 41-year authoritarian reign of President Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.
“The Syrian government has not changed course,” Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Philip Parham, told reporters after a closed-door council meeting on Syria. “In fact, if anything, its actions over the last two weeks have escalated.”
“The time has come for the council to take further actions to step up the pressure against those who are responsible for the violence against the citizens of Syria,” Parham said.
“We will be working on a Security Council resolution that will include measures to apply that pressure,” he said.
The U.S., German, French and Portuguese envoys echoed Parham’s remarks, making clear they would help draft what all envoys said would be a U.N. sanctions resolution.
“More than ever, the council should increase pressure on Assad’s regime,” U.S. deputy envoy Rosemary DiCarlo said.
It was not immediately clear what measures they would seek and what Russia and China, veto-wielding permanent members which can strike down any measure, think about the idea of sanctioning Damascus.
Moscow and Beijing have called for dialogue. For months they helped prevent the council from condemning the crackdown until its members issued a statement on Aug. 3 that criticized the violence and called for the clampdown to stop.
Earlier on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union called for Assad to step down, the first time they had explicitly demanded the Syrian leader give up power.
Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, accused Washington of waging a “diplomatic and humanitarian war” against Syria along with some other Security Council members.
“These countries are trying to settle their old accounts with my country,” he said. “These forces have nothing but hatred against my country and my nation.”
He pointed out that the Security Council, which has been sharply divided on the issue of Syria, again failed to agree on any outcome on Thursday. “Thank God we have wise guys inside this council,” he said.
Ja’afari was also asked if it was true that Assad told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday that Damascus had ended all military operations.
He said it was “already a fact on the ground, the military and police operations stopped in Syria.” Parham said he did not believe the military operations had ceased.
U.N. sanctions against individuals often include an international travel ban and asset freeze. It was not clear if the Western powers were hoping to sanction Assad himself.
The council heard briefings on Syria from U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, the world body’s humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos and U.N. political affairs chief Lynn Pascoe.
Pillay told reporters afterward that the Syrian government might have committed crimes against humanity, adding she had echoed a recommendation in a new U.N. Human Rights Council report that the council should consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The council has referred only two cases to the ICC — the situation in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region and, earlier this year, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s crackdown against anti-government demonstrators. The ICC later issued warrants for the arrest of Gaddafi, his son and his intelligence chief.
Council diplomats say Russia and China would be reluctant to vote for a referral of Syria’s case to the ICC at the current time. The Western envoys did not voice explicit support for an ICC referral after Thursday’s council meeting.
Amos told reporters a U.N. team was heading to Syria over the weekend to assess the humanitarian situation there and that the government had promised the team unfettered access. Amos and Ban have been asking for Damascus’ permission to send such a mission to Syria since May.
Editing by Peter Cooney