UNITED NATIONS –Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a U.S.-backed United Nations Security Council resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 14,000 dead and engulfed the country in civil war.
The action dealt a potentially fatal blow to U.N.-Arab League emissary Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan, and cast doubts that Moscow and Beijing are prepared to apply pressure on Syria to meet its commitments to constrain its troops.
It was the third veto by both countries of a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad to curtail its violent crackdown, initially on unarmed civilians and more recently on both civilians and armed opposition groups.
The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 11 for and 2 against, with two countries, Pakistan and South Africa, abstaining. As permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council, Russia and China–both longtime allies of Assad–have veto power. Both had been open about their opposition to the resolution in the days leading up to the vote.
“The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year,” Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the council after the vote. “The first two vetoes were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable.”
The standoff in the council raised doubts about the long term future of the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at the end of Friday, and which has been severely restricted in its efforts to enforce a broken cease-fire agreement.
In a news conference in Damascus before the vote, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the mission, was notably downbeat.
“It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that,” Mood said.
Rice said the United States would no longer “pin its policy” on unarmed U.N. observers lacking even “minimal support” from the Security Council, but would work with a diverse coalition of countries outside the council to “bring pressure to bear” on the Syrian regime.
But there were indications that the West was unprepared to abruptly withdraw the monitors from Syria. Britain circulated a short resolution that would extend the mandate of the mission for thirty days.
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, defended the veto, saying the resolution was “biased” in threatening only the Syrian government with sanctions and doing nothing to constrain an armed opposition movement that has carried out a series of ever-more violent attacks against government targets–including a devastating strike on Wednesday that reached into the heart of Assad’s national security leadership.
Churkin said the Western approach is designed to “fan the flames” of violence in Syria, with the United States and other powers pursuing their own “geopolitical ambitions in the region and paving the way for the military push to remove Assad from power.”
He said Russia “simply cannot accept” a resolution threatening sanctions and foreign military involvement.
Rice and other Western diplomats denied categorically that the resolution would set the stage for outside military intervention.
The resolution was based on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which has been traditionally used to authorize the use of both sanctions and military force. But the text includes no explicit reference to the use of force, and threatens measures only under article 41 of the enforcement provision, which deals only with sanctions.
China’s U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, said assertions by the United States and its European allies that it was shielding the Syrian regime and undercutting prospects for peace were “completely wrong.”
Li accused Westerns sponsors of the resolution of pursuing “a rigid and arrogant approach” to the council’s negotiations and refusing repeated efforts by China and other countries to amend the Western draft.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “appalled” by the veto.
“What is happening in Syria is a tragedy for its entire people and a threat to international peace and security,” Hague said in a statement. “. . . It was time for the U.N. Security Council to use its collective weight to require the regime to end the violence, and to impose serious consequences if it did not.”
Source: Washington Post