Diplomatic and Military Affairs

Italy recalls ambassador to Syria

Updated: 2011-08-03 08:54


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ROME - Italy has recalled its ambassador to Syria to protest the repression of anti-government demonstrations, urging other European nations do the same, and Russia said it would not oppose a UN resolution to condemn the violence.

Italy is the first European Union country to withdraw its ambassador, although the EU has been tightening sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans against five additional Syrian military and government officials on Monday.

At UN headquarters in New York, the Security Council began negotiating a text Tuesday after failing for more than three months to make any statement on the Syrian violence _ except to condemn the attacks on the US and French embassies in Damascus.

During talks that dragged into the evening Tuesday, the council was negotiating on the text of a European-drafted resolution that was updated with proposals from Brazil and others in what several ambassadors called a positive step.

India's UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the current council president, said the goal was to reach tentative agreement on a text that could be sent to capitals overnight and then tackle the divisive issue of whether it should be adopted as a legally binding resolution or a weaker presidential statement.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were private, said one key unresolved issue was how to address the violence against unarmed civilians and attacks on Syrian security forces. The Europeans and the US insist that the Syrian government's violence against unarmed civilians, which account for the vast number of casualties, cannot be equated with the attacks on security forces, the diplomats said.

"If there are some unbalanced things like sanctions or pressure, I think that set of measures is bad for everything we seek. And that is less bloodshed and more democracy," Sergei Vershinin, chief of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Middle East and North Africa Department, told Russian news agencies Tuesday.

He said Russia is "not categorically against" adopting a new UN resolution on Syria, but that it should not impose sanctions because that would only escalate the conflict.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told reporters in Brasilia his country was working with India and South Africa on a proposed resolution that he hoped would gain consensus.

The resolution would insist "that the Syrian government put an end to the violence in the shortest time possible," said Patriota. He added that he hoped that Brazil, India and South Africa would reach a separate agreement to send a delegation of their vice ministers to Damascus to talk with Syrian authorities about ways to end the violence.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it has decided to recall its envoy "in the face of the horrible repression against the civil population" by the Syrian government, which launched a deadly new push against protesters as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

The ambassador was coming back Tuesday night, the Foreign Ministry said.

In July, the Qatari embassy in Damascus suspended its operations and the ambassador left the country. But the impetus for that move were protests outside the embassy against Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Syrian uprising. Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar.

Syria accuses Al-Jazeera and other media of incitement and fabricating events in their coverage of the protests.

Rome's appeal to fellow EU nations was not immediately heeded. Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Spain and Sweden had no such plans for now.

France also signaled no move was imminent, suggesting Rome had not sent its proposals through official diplomatic channels, and there was no EU-wide initiative to recall envoys from Damascus, officials in Brussels said.

The British Foreign Office said it shares Italy's "strong concerns about the situation in Syria" but is not recalling its ambassador in Damascus.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said tougher EU sanctions were sending a "clear and unambiguous" message.


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