Russia and China today vetoed a Western and Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Syria's violent repression of anti-government demonstrators, throwing their prestige and power behind a beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad as he intensified a military operation aimed at crushing the year-long uprising.
The Russian and Chinese stance marked a blow to U.S. and European efforts to rally behind an Arab League plan that would require Assad to yield some of his powers, making way for the creation of government of national unity led by an individual with backing from the government and opposition.
The decision brought an end to weeks of tumultuous negotiations that pitted the United States, the European Union, and the Arab League against Russia, Syria's remaining protector in the Security Council. It undercuts a diplomat push by the Arab League to secure the 15-nation council's support of a plan that requires Assad to yield power and prepare the country for democratic elections. It also killed off provisions that would have required Syria open to far greater outside scrutiny, allowing foreign journalists, Arab monitors, and U.N. human rights investigators full an unimpeded access throughout the country.
Today's vote -- which gained support from 13 of the council's 15 members -- in the council followed a day in which Syrian authorities moved to crush resistance in the town of Homs, killing hundreds of civilians as Syrian observed the 30-year anniversary of the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians in Hama.
Before the vote, the United States and European diplomats appealed to Moscow to support join the rest of the international community in condemning a regime that is responsible for killing thousands of its own citizens, and jailing and torturing thousands more, including women and children.
President Barack Obama issued a statement calling on Assad to step down and
made a last-ditch effort to press Moscow and other fence-straddlers to support
the resolution, denouncing Syria's "unspeakable assault" against the people of
Homs. "The council now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime's
relentless brutality and to demonstrate that it is a credible advocate for the
universal rights that are written into the U.N. Charter," he said.
"Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity," Obama said. "The Syrian regime's policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse. Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community."
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that the U.S. is "disgusted" by the Russian and Chinese veto, saying that the council has "been held hostage by a couple of members. These members stand behind empty arguments and individual interests while seeking to strip" any resolution of meaningful terms.
"A couple of members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant," she said. She said today's action was even "more shameful" given Russia's role in selling arms to Assad's government.
"It is a sad day for the council. It is a sad day for Syria," France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said after the vote. "History has now compounded our shame."
"Those who would impede the adoption of [this resolution] would take a heavy responsibility before history," France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said shortly before the vote. "Failure to act would be [a] scandal," added Germany's U.N. envoy Peter Wittig. The "reports from Homs are shocking," he added.
But Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov said that resolution was impractical and unfair. "We are either going to adopt an absolutely unrealistic provision expecting that the government of Syria would withdraw from the cities and towns exactly at the time when the armed groups are taking over the quarters of those cities and towns."
"We are not friends or allies of President Assad," said Lavrov, who plans to visit Damascus on Tuesday. "We try to stick to our responsibilities as a permanent members of the Security Council, and the Security Council by definition does not engage in domestic affairs of member states."
After the vote, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, blamed his influential Western colleague's for undermine prospects for a deal, saying they had promoted a strategy aimed at "regime change" by backing the opposition's pursuit of power and feeding "armed methods of struggle."
The resolution, he said, would have "sent an unbalanced signal" to the key parties in Syria, and provide the opposition with greater scope for extending military gains. "The Syrian opposition must distance itself from extremist groups," he said.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.