UN Security Council handles Syria file upon request by Arab League

West offers draft resolution to settle crisis, intensifies efforts to convince Russia, China not to hinder proposals

Draft resolution by Security Council on Syria

In the beginning of a cautious stance, Iran urges Assad to hold free elections, allow parties to be active

A Security Council meeting ended Thursday evening with no agreement on a draft resolution intended to pressure Syria to end its months-long crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

"We had what I would characterize as sometimes difficult but ultimately useful discussions," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters. "We're still working. This is not done."

She said the Moroccans, who submitted the original draft, will come back with another version that could be voted on. "In any case, there are some still complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide each of us with instructions on."

"We'll see what the reaction of the capitals will be," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said of the fate of the reworked wording of the resolution. "They're assessing the situation. We'll see what the outcome is going to be."

Before the talks, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said Thursday that even a watered-down resolution would pressure the Syrian government.

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

The draft discussed Thursday had dropped demands from an Arab League plan for Syria to form a unity government and for President Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to his deputy.

U.N. diplomats said the changes reflected a big concession to Russia, which has been reluctant to sign on to any plan that could be seen as a mandate for regime change in Damascus, as occurred in Libya after it signed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone.

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

A call for other nations to follow the Arab League members in adopting measures such as sanctions against Syria had also been dropped from the latest version of the draft resolution.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud had said he hoped to have the text finalized by the end of Thursday and suggested that a vote could happen as soon as Friday, or Monday if necessary.

Other diplomats suggested that a vote over the weekend was possible.

U.S. and European diplomats insisted that the revised text still fully endorsed the Arab League plan and that it did not need to spell out every detail to have the same meaning.

"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," Elaraby said.

Russia made clear its objections to the draft resolution, Elaraby 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, Elaraby cited 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.

Elaraby said he had urged Syria's leadership to learn the lesson from Egypt, where he was formerly foreign minister, and other nations that have seen popular uprisings.

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

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 red most of the main streets and some buildings to mark the 30th anniversary of a notorious 1982 clampdown by the government of Hafez 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 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 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.

Meanwhile, ran implored Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to listen to the 'legitimate demands' of protesters, warning that a failure to do so could lead to the regime's collapse and broader regional turmoil.

Syria’s regime has lost crucial support from close allies Iran and Turkey at a time when its Army is beginning to fall apart, signaling cracks within and without that could spell the end of more than 40 years of rule by the Assad family.

Syrian residents and activists say that dozens of soldiers defected after the Army told them to fire on protesters in a Damascus suburb, according to Reuters.

The Damascus soldiers fled to nearby farmland after security forces fired on demonstrators in Harasta to prevent them from gathering in the center of the city, Reuters reports.

Their defections are the first reported in the capital, whose support for Assad has been crucial so far in shoring up the government against uprisings elsewhere in the country.

The regime, which has blamed the uprising on terrorists and foreign saboteurs, denies that any soldiers have defected.

Iran, Syria's most powerful ally, had until now echoed President Bashar al-Assad’s claims of a "foreign conspiracy.

But on Saturday it began urging its ally to listen to the protesters' "legitimate demands."

The shift appears driven not so much by a desire for human rights protections or democratic progress, however – Iran reportedly has helped Syria crack down on the protesters – but rather a concern that a collapse of the Assad regime could result in an “unprecedented regional crisis,” according to the Associated Press.

Iran's ties with Syria go far beyond the countries' long-standing friendship in a region dominated by Arab suspicions of Tehran’s aims. Syria also is Iran's conduit for aid to powerful anti-Israel proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Should Assad's regime fall, it could rob Iran of a loyal Arab partner in a region profoundly realigned by uprisings demanding more freedom and democracy.

Iran's comments show that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials are concerned about being on the losing side of the uprising, writes Syria expert Joshua Landis. Iran, Syria’s only backer and ally, is hedging its bets. Its leaders no longer have confidence that Assad will survive.

Ahmedinejad “warned” Bashar in an interview on Hezbollah’s Almanar TV that “the people should have the right to elect and get their freedoms”.

He also said that a timeline and deadlines should be put in place so the west can’t have an excuse to interfere. Iran is worried about throwing good money after bad.

Turkey's leaders also said this weekend that they had "lost confidence" in Assad's government – a diplomatic step just shy of calling on him to step down.

“Clearly we have reached a point [in Syria] where anything would be too little, too late. We have lost our confidence,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul, according to Hurriyet Daily News. “No regime that uses heavy weapons and brutal force to kill unarmed people who take to the streets can stand," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, also on Sunday.

Turkey's stance on Syria's uprising has steadily shifted over the past few months from its "zero problems" foreign policy of having no conflicts with its neighbors to vocal criticism of the Assad regime.

Turkey was previously one of Syria's strongest regional allies, but the rising death toll from the regime's bloody crackdown – at least two during Friday’s protests and more than 2,000 since March – has eroded that support.

There also appears to be eroding support for the regime within the ranks of its Army. In addition to the Damascus defections, Aljazeera reported defections in the town of Rastan, in central Syria.

The defections began when the town, a traditional “reservoir of recruits” for the Army, was stormed three months ago by tanks, according to the Arabic TV network.

While Assad currently has the upper hand militarily, an increasing number of analysts such as Mr. Landis are declaring that his departure is now not a matter of if, but when.

President Assad will not be able to survive this. It is not clear how he will be pushed out. Today, he appears strong militarily.

The Syrian army has retaken Hama and destroyed large demonstrations in Homs, Deir and many other places, but the people are boiling. Anger is traveling up the Syrian social hierarchy. People cannot support this killing if there is no end in sight. Sunni merchants, the professional classes, and Christians stood by Bashar.

They considered him Syria’s only option. They are rethinking. They can see that there is no light at the end of the Assad tunnel. They are beginning to pray that the change comes quickly. How that change will come remains unknown.