Turtle Bay

Russia, China veto third Security Council Syria resolution

At Turtle Bay, three times is not the charm. Today, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of U.N. diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 15,000 dead and brought the country to the brink of a full-fledged civil war. The action ...

At Turtle Bay, three times is not the charm. Today, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of U.N. diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 15,000 dead and brought the country to the brink of a full-fledged civil war.

The action dealt a potential 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 Damascus to meet its commitments to constrain its troops. The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 11 for and 2 against, with two countries, Pakistan and South Africa, abstaining.

After the vote, the council’s Western powers lambasted Russia and China for casting their third veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad to curtail its violent crackdown, initially on civilians and more recently on armed opposition groups.

"The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year. This is another dark day in Turtle Bay," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the 15-nation council after the vote. "This is the third time in 10 months that two members have prevented the Security Council from responding with credibility to the Syrian conflict. The first two vetoes were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable."  

Rice said she was troubled by fate of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, saying the possibility that Syria might use "chemical weapons against its own people should be a concern for us all." These weapons, she said, "must remain secure and the regime held accountable for their use."

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 30 days.  Rice said that the United States "might be prepared" to support the British draft to allow a "safe and orderly withdrawal of U.N. monitors from Syria over the next month."

Still, the standoff in the Security Council raised doubts about the long term future of the U.N. mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at Friday midnight, and which has been severely restricted in its efforts to enforce a broken cease-fire agreement. In a press conference, Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said that "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."

Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, defended his country’s decision to veto the U.S.-backed resolution, saying it was "biased" in that it threatened only the Syrian government with U.N. sanctions, while doing nothing to constrained an armed opposition movement that has carried out a series of ever more violent attacks against government targets, including a devastating strike on Tuesday that reached into the heart of Assad’s national security leadership.

Churkin claimed that the Western approach is designed to "fan the flames" of violence in Syria, 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 pave the way to military action.

China’s U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, reacted angrily to assertion by the United States and its European allies that it was shielding the Syrian regime and undercutting prospects for peace. "They are completely wrong," he said. He accused the Westerns sponsors of the resolution of pursuing "a rigid and arrogant approach" to the negotiations on the approach to Syria, refusing repeated efforts by China and other countries to negotiate amendments into the Western draft.

Kofi Annan’s spokesman issued a statement saying that he was "disappointed that at this critical stage the U.N. Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped force."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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