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Arab, Western states press Russia on Assad

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Arab and Western nations will press Russia to back a U.N. resolution supporting Arab League demands that Syrian President Bashar Assad resign, envoys said.

The move abandons earlier attempts to get the Security Council to impose sanctions on the Assad regime -- a measure Russia and China vowed to veto -- and instead would pursue the league's political approach announced Sunday.

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The league plan calls on Assad to hand over powers to his deputy and set up a national unity government with the opposition within two months. The government would elect a council to write a new constitution, setting the stage for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Syria lambasted the plan as "flagrant interference" in its internal affairs and accused Arab states of attempting to "internationalize" the crisis.

League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby and Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani plan to brief U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the plan within days, league Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Helli said in Cairo Tuesday.

Hamad later told al-Jazeera, "We are going to present all Arab resolutions, including the one from [Sunday], to the Security Council so the highest authority in the world can adopt them."

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He pointed out Sunday's plan does not back military intervention in Syria.

The United States, Britain and France support the league's U.N. moves, diplomats told the British newspaper The Guardian.

The draft resolution condemns Syrian authorities' human-rights violations and calls on Assad to carry out the Arab League plan.

Russia has so far backed Assad, but said it welcomed the league's plans, and Western diplomats told The Guardian they believed it would be hard for Moscow to veto an Arab call for Assad to quit.

If Moscow supports the move, the Security Council could pass the resolution next month, The Guardian said.

Beijing, another veto-wielding Security Council member, has blocked anti-Assad action but will likely shift its position if Moscow does, diplomats told The Guardian.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed confidence Moscow would support its longstanding ally.

"Our relations with Russia have deep roots," he told reporters in Damascus. "Russia cannot welcome foreign intervention in Syria. That is too much."

He said Syria no longer wanted "Arab solutions to the crisis" and said the upcoming U.N. visit was meaningless to his government.

"They can head to New York or to the moon," he said. "So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern."

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