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Diplomats hail Syria talks progress

Diplomats have claimed considerable progress towards overcoming Russian objections to a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at halting the violence in Syria.

However demands that President Bashar Assad step aside remained a major sticking point.

Following a closed-door meeting in New York, several diplomats said they were encouraged by a new constructive attitude in discussions and some held out the possibility of a vote by tomorrow.

"We are still looking for a vote this week," British UN ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said. "But there are a lot of difficult issues and we are not there yet."

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin also sounded upbeat, saying: "I think we have a much better understanding of what we need to do to reach consensus."

Western diplomats insist the UN resolution be based on an Arab League peace plan calling for Assad to step down, allowing for the formation of a new government. The plan also calls on Assad, who has been using police and the military to put down an uprising for the past 10 months, to end the violence.

US ambassador Susan Rice said the call for Assad to step aside remained "one of the more difficult issues".

"There's no certainty. These are tough issues," she said, adding that a "constructive and roll-up-your-sleeves manner" during the session gave her hope for eventual agreement on a resolution being drafted by Morocco. "We're not talking weeks, but we're not talking tomorrow," she added.

Ambassadors from India, Germany and other countries said they expected Morocco, the resolution's key sponsor, to prepare a new draft for discussion by council members today.

Russian officials have said they will oppose the resolution if it contains any hint of a military intervention or regime change in Syria, a major ally. Mr Churkin told reporters before Wednesday's session that a change in the current language calling for Assad to step aside "would make it easier for us" to approve.


From Belfast Telegraph