U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today pressed the U.N. Security Council to reinforce diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria, saying that the death toll in the country has now surpassed 8,000.
Speaking at a luncheon with a small group of reporters, Ban urged the Security Council's big powers to reach agreement on a resolution that would call on Syrians to immediately halt the violence there, permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance to besieged communities, and endorse the efforts of his envoy, Kofi Annan, to start a political talks between the government and opposition over the future of the country.
"The Security Council should adopt the resolution immediately," Ban said.
Ban said he told the Security Council's major powers at a luncheon on Monday that he recognizes that "it is a prerogative of the Security Council members" to make its own decision but that "as a secretary general of the United Nations we can not go on like this. The longer you talk, or delay, more and more people, hundreds and even thousands of people will be killed. So there is no time to lose."
Ban said that the wider U.N. community, "including myself," bear part of the responsibility for failing to contain the violence in Syria.
But he said it is "too early to conclude that the U.N. is "not able" to deliver peace, noting that Annan, who met this morning with Syrian opposition leaders, is engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts to broker a deal that could staunch the killing.
Ban said he believes that a Security Council resolution demanding an end to the violence could change Assad's "political psychology."
But he said Syria's security forces, who have used "disproportionate use of force" against the opposition, bear the greatest responsibility for the current violence and that they should be first to halt the killing.
The timing of a cease-fire has become a major sticking point in diplomatic talks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted that the Syrian government -- as well as the armed opposition -- agree to a simultaneous cease-fire. But Arab and Western governments have insisted that Syria, which has overwhelming military superiority, stop shooting first.
"It is [the] Syrian national security forces ... which started [the killing] so they must stop," Ban said. "Once it is done we will have a means to ensure that opposition will stop the violence." Ban said his three chief priorities in talks were to: "First end the violence, all the violence; second engage in an inclusive dialogue for a political solution; and thirdly, establish an access for humanitarian assistance."
Those key elements omit a key plank of an Arab League proposal that requires President Bashar al-Assad yield some of his powers to a vice president to negotiate the terms of a national unity government, which would be headed by an individual accepted by both sides. Russia, along with China, vetoed a Security Council draft resolution that endorsed that plan, arguing that it would impose a foreign political solution on the Syrians.
The removal of that provision from the U.N.'s diplomatic talking points has led to speculation that Assad may be allowed to remain in power. Asked if Assad had likely survived the calls for his removal, Ban said, "If he thinks he can weather this storm...he [has made] a serious misjudgment...He cannot continue like this. He has gone too deep, too far."
Kofi Annan, meanwhile, wrapped up his talks with the Syrian opposition today and is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday regarding Assad's response to a peace proposal Annan presented him in Damascus earlier this week.
"Once I receive their answer I will know how to react," he said in a statement. "But let me say that the killing and the violence must stop. The Syrian people have gone through a lot, they deserve better. I have made it clear at the beginning of my mission that my main preoccupation is the welfare of the Syrian people and the Syrian nation. We should put the interests of the people at the center of everything that we do. And I know that the strong international community support, the whole world is coming together, is working with us to resolve this situation in Syria, and with goodwill and determination I am hopeful we will make progress."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.