Western powers put their plan for a court to prosecute the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister before the UN Security Council on Friday, but Russia raised objections to its compulsory nature.
Sponsors of the United States, Britain and France played down the Russian concerns and said they still expected their resolution setting up the special court, a highly divisive issue in Lebanon, to pass by next week.
But US, British and French envoys amended the resolution to allow until June 10 before it went into effect in a gesture toward what they said was the probably forlorn hope that the Lebanese would bury their differences over it.
The resolution responds to a Lebanese government request but the country's parliament has not approved the plan because its speaker, an opposition figure who disputes the legitimacy of the government, has refused to convene the chamber.
At the heart of the dispute are Lebanon's ties with its larger neighbor Syria. Pro-government Lebanese leaders accuse Syria of killing former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 22 other people with a bomb in 2005. Damascus denies involvement.
Despite warnings by Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and others that setting up the court could trigger a fresh wave of violence there, Western leaders say it is essential as a matter of principle to try Hariri's murderers.
And they shrugged off suggestions that bombings and fighting in Lebanon this week aim to derail the court.
"We should not be intimidated by what is happening today in Lebanon," said France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
After discussions among the Security Council's 15 members on Friday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow objected to the draft resolution's reference to Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which would make the court mandatory.
"We don't think it's necessary," he told reporters, saying another clause in the UN charter made all Security Council resolutions binding anyway.
"We are also proposing ... a grace period, that after the resolution is adopted, it will enter into force after a certain period of time, in the hope and expectation that before that period ends they will be able to ratify it in Lebanon."
THREAT TO PEACE
Western diplomats said inclusion of the Chapter 7 reference was non-negotiable. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said past U.N. actions on Hariri's assassination had termed it "a threat to international peace and security," thus requiring Chapter 7 enforcement.
"We believe that we are heading towards a vote on that resolution early next week," Khalilzad said. But he indicated the sponsors would be open to a clause allowing for a delay of "a few days" in implementing it, once it is passed.
Drafters of the resolution also removed some provisions from the Chapter 7 requirement but left the main ones intact, such as establishing the court. But it is unclear whether Russia accepts the latest version.
With U.N. headquarters in New York closed on Monday for the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, the earliest that the resolution could be adopted is now probably Wednesday after further discussions on Tuesday, diplomats said.
Western diplomats have said throughout that they do not expect Russia to veto the resolution, but they speculated that it could abstain. The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China have veto powers on the council.
Diplomats say the resolution would establish the court but not spell out how it would operate. Key details, including where it would be based, remain to be decided