France, Germany and Britain are embarking on a new diplomatic offensive to get the UN Security Council to add to international pressure on Syria's President Bashar al-Assad over his crackdown on protests, diplomats said.
The European powers are seizing on the Arab League's tough new stance on Syria, which Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig said could be a "game changer."
Wittig and the UN ambassadors from Britain and France met counterparts from some Arab League nations late Monday to discuss the next moves at the UN, after League foreign ministers sought Security Council endorsement for their new plan which calls for Assad to hand over powers to a deputy and elections.
The European countries have asked for the UN Security Council to request that Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi brief the 15-member Security Council "as soon as possible", diplomats said.
South Africa's UN ambassador, Baso Sangqu, who is president of the council for January, said that no decision has been taken yet on the request.
"We had a useful meeting with the Arab League who want the active support of the UN Security Council. They, with the support of council members, will be taking that forward in the coming days," said one western diplomat.
"We want a strong message that takes up the message of the Arab League," said another western diplomat. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were in private.
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The council has been blocked for months over Syria, where the UN says at least 5,400 people have died since protests against Assad erupted last March. Russia and China vetoed a proposed European resolution in October saying it was the first steps toward enforced regime change.
Wittig said the Arab League's new plan for the Syria crisis "may be a game changer" in the diplomatic battle at the Security Council because the League sought UN backing for its whole plan which would force the council to discuss all elements including Assad's future.
He called the Arab League plan "a really bold step."
Germany made an official request last week asking for the Arab League chief to come to the Security Council.
"This briefing that we requested is not a substitute for council action," Wittig said. "We believe now more than ever that we need strong Council action, a clear message to both the Syrian regime and the Syrian people.
"Only real support and endorsement of the Arab League’s decisions will do, everything else will be perceived as much too weak."
Assad's government has already strongly rejected the Arab plan for the crisis. Russia has yet to indicate its position on the new Arab League action.