UNITED NATIONS — The battle over Syria moved to the United Nations on Tuesday as Western powers and much of the Arab world confronted Russia and its allies in the Security Council over their refusal to condemn the Syrian government for its violent suppression of popular protests.
As top diplomats gathered in the Security Council chamber for the showdown, the steady drumbeat of violence continued without pause in Syria, where government forces used heavy weapons and tanks to push rebels back from strongholds near Damascus. Activists said at least seven people were killed Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
At the United Nations, the two sides skirmished over a draft Security Council resolution proposed by Morocco that calls for President Bashar Assad of Syria to leave power as the first step of a transition toward democracy.
But behind all the arguments lurked the ghost of Libya, with Russia determined to block any resolution that might be construed as a license for regime change. Arab and top Western diplomats argued that endorsing the demonstrators was the minimum step required to support popular demands for change that began with peaceful demonstrations and have evolved into an increasingly armed uprising.
"The Syrian government failed to make any serious effort to cooperate with us," Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, the prime minister of Qatar, told the Security Council about Arab League efforts to mediate the dispute. "The government killing machine continues effectively unabated."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, joined by the foreign ministers of Britain, France and several other countries, argued that Libya was a "false analogy." The plan for a gradual democratic transition "represents the best efforts of Syria's neighbors to chart a way forward, and it deserves a chance to work," she said.
The proposed resolution, which most likely would not be voted on before Friday, called for Assad to cede power to his vice president, who would help form a unity government that would prepare for elections. It is unlikely that Assad would heed the demands to step down, even if the resolution made it through the council.
Russia, backed by China and India, rejects the idea that the world organization can interfere in the domestic politics of any country to force a leadership change. They all feel that they were duped into supporting a no-fly zone over Libya, which was promoted as a means to protect civilians last March. Instead, they said, NATO used it as a license to help overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, adopted a "where will it all end" argument on Tuesday. The council, he said, will start saying "what king or prime minister needs to step down. The Security Council cannot prescribe recipes for the outcome of a domestic political process."