RUSSIA AND CHINA have again vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad’s government to end the escalating 16-month conflict in Syria.
The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis by Damascus’ most important allies.
The defeat leaves the 300-strong UN observer mission in Syria in limbo – just as the mission was forced to suspend operations because of the intensified fighting.
Its mandate, to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, expires tomorrow.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who sponsored the Western-backed draft, said he was “appalled” at the third double veto of a resolution aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria and creating conditions for political talks.
“The consequence of their decision is obvious,” he said. “Further bloodshed, and the likelihood of descent into all-out civil war.”
The resolution had threatened sanctions if the Syrian regime didn’t quickly stop using heavy weapons. Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians.
“The consequence of today’s action is the situation will continue to deteriorate,” US Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution should never have been put to a vote because the sponsors knew it had no chance of adoption.
“We simply cannot accept a document under Chapter 7, one which would open the path for the pressure of sanctions and further to external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs,” he said.
The latest veto was a blow to Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, who had called for “consequences” for non-compliance with his six-point peace plan, which has been flouted by the Assad government.
The vote on the resolution was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but Annan requested a delay and appealed to the council to unite behind a new resolution.
Moscow wouldn’t budge, and the West insisted on including the threat of non-military sanctions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. That could eventually open the door to the use of military force.
Wednesday’s delay was announced shortly after the deadly bombing of a high-level security meeting in Damascus that has made Assad’s hold on power look increasingly tenuous.
His whereabouts have been a mystery since the attack, though Syrian state TV said Assad attended the swearing-in of his new defence minister earlier today.
- Edith M Lederer