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U.S. glum on prospects for new U.N. Syria resolution

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday that, amid ongoing opposition from Russia, it was not optimistic the U.N. Security Council could agree on a new resolution urging an end to the Syrian government's brutal crackdown on its opponents.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that negotiations between the five permanent Security Council members and Morocco - the sole Arab state on the 15-nation council - aimed at agreeing on the language for the U.S.-drafted resolution had made no progress.

"We are, frankly, not over optimistic that an agreed text will be reached in the future," Nuland told reporters.

The U.S.-backed resolution follows two earlier proposed condemnations of Damascus that Russia and China vetoed. The council has remained deadlocked over Syria's military operations against pro-democracy protesters the United Nations says has killed over 7,500 civilians.

Nuland said the United States and its Arab partners would continue to press Moscow to change course and drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to attend an Arab League meeting in Cairo over the weekend, and he will meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday on the sidelines of a Security Council meeting to debate the "Arab Spring" uprisings.

"This is now topic one, two and three in our conversation with Moscow," Nuland said.

"We would like to see Russia do what it can to put pressure, because as we've said, our concern is for the Syrian people. And it is time for Russia to stand with them."

The U.S.-drafted resolution at the United Nations came as Washington seeks to muster international support for an Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria that has drawn opposition primarily from Moscow but also from China.

HAGGLING OVER "BALANCE"

The U.S. draft, obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, demands "unhindered humanitarian access" and "condemns the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations."

It also would have the council demand Syria release all "arbitrarily detained" prisoners and withdraw the military from cities, where security forces have sought to crush anti-government protests.

Russia and China proposed amendments to the U.S. draft that would have weakened it significantly, according to a Western diplomat.

Their amendments would have dropped calls for "further measures" if Damascus does not comply with the resolution and balanced calls on Syria to withdraw its troops from cities with a demand that rebel fighters simultaneously stop the violence and withdraw as well, the diplomat said.

Such amendments could be difficult for countries like France to accept. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Friday that Paris opposed any council resolution that would assign responsibility for the violence equally to the Syrian government and the opposition.

Speaking privately, however, several U.N. officials said it would help Kofi Annan's job as joint U.N.-African Union envoy to Syria if the council were to unanimously adopt a resolution. Annan meets Assad in Damascus on Saturday.

U.N. ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Morocco began discussing the draft on Tuesday.

Several Western diplomats had already expressed disappointment with the existing U.S. draft, saying it fell far short of an appropriately tough condemnation of the Assad government's nearly year-long clamp-down.

Russia and China said the main reason they vetoed a council resolution backing the Arab plan last month was because it was an attempt to push Libya-style "regime change" in Syria.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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