(AP) — The U.N. Security Council scheduled a vote Thursday on a new Syria resolution after a last-minute delay failed to get key Western nations and Russia to agree on measures to end the dramatically escalating violence — but both sides remained deeply divided.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said his country's Western-backed text would be put to a vote at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on Thursday. It threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government if he doesn't withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days and is tied to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict.
Russia, which is a close Syrian ally, has said it will veto any Chapter 7 resolution.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to Wednesday's deadly bombing in the heart of Damascus that killed the defense minister and his deputy, Assad's powerful brother-in-law, and accused the West of inciting the Syrian opposition.
Russia is vehemently opposed to sanctions and any mention of Chapter 7 and Lavrov argued that the British text amounted to support for the rebels and would lead to more bloodshed.
International envoy Kofi Annan contacted several governments Tuesday and urged the council to postpone Wednesday's scheduled vote so members could "unite and take concerted and strong action that would help stem the bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
Annan said Wednesday's bombing "only underscores the urgency of decisive council action," Fawzi said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was visiting China, also urged the Security Council to "take collective action, with a sense of unity."
After a phone call from President Barack Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday afternoon, the Russian and U.S. ambassadors met at the United Nations but there was no breakthrough.
Nonetheless, diplomats said there was still a last-minute chance for compromise. "Who knows where we're going to end up," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.
If the Western-backed draft resolution is vetoed, Russia could then put its rival text — which makes no mention of sanctions or Chapter 7 — to a vote. But diplomats said Moscow doesn't have the minimum nine "yes" votes required for Security Council approval, so that appears unlikely.
The council is under pressure because the mandate of the 300-strong U.N. observer force in Syria expires on Friday, and it must decide by then whether to extend it.
If neither the Western nor the Russian texts are approved, the council would then have until Friday to decide whether to extend the observer mission.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks have been private, said a simple resolution extending it for perhaps 30 days is the most likely scenario.
The unarmed observers were authorized for 90 days to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of Annan's six-point peace plan. The U.S. and its European allies contend that with violence escalating dramatically and the failure to implement Annan's plan, there must be consequences for non-compliance.
But Russia's Lavrov said the Western resolution would support the Syrian opposition which he called "a dead-end policy, because Assad is not leaving voluntarily," according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Diplomats have been scrambling to try to get council to unify, which would send a much stronger signal to Syria.
According to the White House, Putin and Obama agreed that the growing violence in Syria shows the need for a political transition as soon as possible — a key demand of the Annan plan. But the Kremlin said they didn't agree on the measures that need to be taken.
Moscow's rival proposal calls for the "immediate implementation" of Annan's plan and guidelines for a political transition approved at a meeting in Geneva last month, but makes no mention of sanctions.
Russia and China have incurred international criticism by twice vetoing U.N. resolutions to increase pressure on Assad.