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Syria Crisis: Hillary Clinton Says Violence Must End Ahead Of U.N. Vote

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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The United States and other Western countries called on the U.N. Security Council on Monday to end its "neglect" of the violence raging in Syria and rapidly endorse an Arab League plan for a political transition there.

Western officials were speaking a day before the 15-nation council holds a key meeting to consider the Arab plan, but faced reluctance from Damascus's ally Russia, a veto-holder in the council that has demanded changes in a proposed resolution.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar's prime minister are due to plead with the council to back the plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer powers to his deputy to prepare for free elections.

Western countries are deploying their big guns to try to overcome Russian objections, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe due to attend the session.

"We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this council over the course of the last 10 months, not because the majority of the council isn't eager to act - it has been," Washington's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.

"But there have been a couple of very powerful members who have not been willing to see that action take place," she said. "That may yet still be the case."

Rice was referring to Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted Security Council resolution in October that would have condemned Syria for its bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and threatened it with possible sanctions.

Clinton urged the council to adopt a European-Arab draft resolution endorsing the Arab plan aimed at ending the 10-month crisis.

"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," she said in a statement. "The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin."

In Paris, a French diplomatic source said that what Juppe wanted "is that this visit at least speeds up negotiations."


WHAT CHANGES?

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last week that he was willing to engage on the European-Arab draft, which Morocco submitted to the council. But while he did not explicitly threaten to use his veto, he said the text was unacceptable in its current form.

Diplomats said Elaraby would be meeting with Churkin behind closed doors in New York to explain to him that vetoing the draft resolution would be tantamount to vetoing the Arab world.

A vote on the draft resolution is unlikely before Thursday or Friday, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

Russia sought on Monday to avert a swift council vote, saying it wanted to study recommendations from Arab observers in Syria before discussing the league's plan. Russia also said Damascus had agreed to take part in talks in Moscow, but a senior figure in the Syrian opposition said it would not attend.

In New York, Rice said it was "vitally important that the Security Council support and embrace the Arab League plan in toto ... We don't see a great deal of reason for an extended negotiation."

She said the resolution was "quite straightforward" and contained no reference to the use or threat of force. Russia has said NATO countries distorted the sense of a March 2011 council resolution on Libya to help rebels overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

While few expect Russia to support the resolution, Western officials said they were hopeful Moscow might be persuaded to abstain, allowing it to pass. The question remained what changes would need to be made to the text to secure that outcome.

It was widely expected that Russia would insist at least that language in the draft explicitly calling on Assad to transfer power to his deputy be dropped, as well as criticism of arms sales to Syria that is clearly aimed at Moscow. (Writing by Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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