News / Middle East

Russia, China Veto UN Resolution on Syria

Russian representative Vitaly Churkin vetoes a draft resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at United Nations headquarters on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.
Russian representative Vitaly Churkin vetoes a draft resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at United Nations headquarters on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.
Margaret Besheer

Russia and China have once again blocked an effort by the U.N. Security Council to condemn the on-going violence in Syria. The two powers used their vetoes to defeat a resolution on Saturday that would have also endorsed an Arab League plan to help end the bloodshed.

The Syrian crisis has been a divisive force in the 15-nation Security Council for months. In October, Russia and China both vetoed a resolution condemning the violence.

Saturday’s vote came after weeks and days of tense negotiations and after a night of spiraling violence in Syria. Last minute huddles and phone calls inside the council chamber could not prevent the measure’s failure, despite the 13 votes in favor.

In the end it came down to a few phrases that Russia wanted changed or added, but that the Arab and Western sponsors of the text refused to alter or insert, saying they had made enough concessions already.

Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was “disgusted” that Russia and China had once again blocked council action on Syria, particularly as the draft resolution had no references to sanctions, an arms embargo or military intervention. She also chided Russia for continuing to sell weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“For months this Council has been held hostage by a couple of members.  These members stand behind empty arguments and individual interests while delaying and seeking to strip bare any text that would pressure Assad to change his actions.  This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad," she said.

The British ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said he was “appalled” at the double veto, saying there was nothing in the text that should have triggered it. “The reality is that Russia and China have today taken a choice: to turn their backs on the Arab world and to support tyranny rather than the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.  They have failed in their responsibility as permanent members of the Security Council," he said.

He told reporters later that he was particularly surprised by China’s vote against the resolution, as they had not expressed any particular concerns about the text during negotiations.

France’s  Ambassador, Gérard Araud, was equally indignant, criticizing Russia and China for obstructing council action and saying history would judge harshly those who did not support the Arab League plan and aligned themselves with a regime that massacred its own people.

But Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that consensus was possible, Moscow just wanted a few more days to negotiate and they were pushed to use their veto because other council members insisted on holding the vote Saturday without giving their proposals due consideration. “We were trying to suggest that we continue our discussions in order to reach consensus, so we were prepared for an extra mile, it was our colleagues who did not accept it," he said.

Churkin acknowledged that “tragic events” are happening in Syria, but said the Security Council is not the only “diplomatic tool on this planet” and he noted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the foreign intelligence chief are going to Damascus on Tuesday to meet with President Assad.

Syria’s envoy, Bashar al-Ja’afari, continued to blame the violence in his country on armed groups and terrorist gangs that he said are supported by foreign sources and media campaigns in hostile countries.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said the U.N. chief “deeply regretted” the failure of the council to act. He said it undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people.

Meanwhile, the death toll continued to mount in the Syrian town of Homs, where activists say the military bombarded the city overnight, killing more than 200 people in one of the bloodiest days since the crackdown began last March.

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