The United Nations Security Council
The United Nations Security Council at the UN headquarters in New York on April 16, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Britain and France handed the United Nations Security Council a draft resolution on Wednesday condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters, despite the risk of a Russian veto.

Diplomats said the draft was offered at a council meeting at which the 15-nation body was being briefed by a senior UN official on the unrest in Syria, but they did not expect a vote on Wednesday.

"We would like a vote as soon as possible, before the end of the week," a diplomat told Reuters. "We expect some attempts to delay a vote by Russia and China, and possibly India."

Russia and China, which both hold vetoes, have made clear they dislike the idea of council involvement, which they say could help to destabilize a strategic Middle Eastern country. Moscow has long been an ally and arms supplier of Syria.

But in a challenge to potential opponents, British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament in London, "If anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience."

Like an earlier draft first circulated to council members last month, the latest text urges countries not to supply weapons to Damascus but does not provide for an actual arms embargo or other specific punitive measures.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, condemns "systematic" human rights violations by Syrian authorities and says they may amount to crimes against humanity. But it also denounces violence against security forces.

One diplomat said new amendments attempted to make the resolution look less like a prelude to further action such as the military intervention that NATO has conducted in Libya, which has angered Russia.

In particular, a new clause says that "the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process."

At the same time, a senior European diplomat told reporters in Washington that European Union nations are preparing a third round of sanctions against Syria that target Syrian companies.

Three months of popular unrest in Syria has cost more than 1,000 lives, according to human rights groups.

Despite Russian hints of a veto of the UN resolution, one diplomat said this was not certain and that Russian officials in New York had suggested "some room for engagement" in talks with their Western counterparts.

Another council diplomat was less optimistic, saying: "I hear that the (Russian) veto is inevitable."

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, asked as he was going into the council meeting if Moscow would cast its veto, told reporters, "Things are being crossed out (in the text). I need to see a clean copy."

Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said the draft was still "not sufficiently good enough."

Earlier, French Ambassador Gerard Araud told France's Tele television channel, "First of all we want to see if the Russians are really going to use their veto. We are still trying to negotiate with them."

"If we have, out of the 15 (council) members, 11 or 12 with us, that makes a veto more difficult," he added. "For the moment, nothing is yet settled."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe discussed whether to in effect dare the Russians to veto the resolution when they met on Monday and were leaning in that direction, the senior European diplomat said in Washington.

"The temptation was to go forward and to say to the Russians -- please take your responsibilities. If you want to veto it, do it. If you are bluffing, demonstrate it," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.