The United Nations Security Council failed again to take decisive action to stop the escalating violence in Syria as Russia and China blocked a resolution backing an Arab League plan for President Bashar Assad to step down.
Yesterday’s double-veto outraged the US and European council members who feared it would embolden the Assad regime.
British UN ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said the UK was “appalled” but would continue efforts for security council action.
“Despite this veto, we will continue as the United Kingdom to strongly support the Arab League plan and we will bring this issue back to the security council if the Syrian regime does not end the bloodshed and implement the plan as has been demanded,” he said.
In an unusual weekend session, 13 members of the council, including the United States, Britain and France, voted in favour of the resolution aimed at stopping the brutal crackdown in Syria that has killed thousands of people since anti-government protests erupted a year ago.
It was the second time in four months that Russia and China used their veto power to block a security council resolution condemning the violence in Syria.
Damascus has been a key Russian ally since Soviet times and Moscow has opposed any UN call that could be interpreted as advocating military intervention or regime change.
The rare double-veto was issued following days of top-level negotiations aimed at overcoming Russian opposition to the draft resolution.
In a true display of diplomatic brinkmanship, the US, European nations and the Arab League ultimately decided to call Russia’s bluff on its threats to block the measure despite its overwhelming support among council members. Moscow went ahead and used its veto, bringing Beijing along in support.
Several European envoys said before the session that they felt compelled to call for the vote despite Russia’s attempts to seek a delay because they were concerned about the latest outbreak of violence in Syria.
The urgency was heightened by yesterday’s assault by Syrian forces firing mortars and artillery on the city of Homs. Activists said more than 200 people were killed in what they called the bloodiest episode of the nearly 11-month-old uprising against Assad.
After the vote, US ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was “disgusted” by the vetoes, accusing Russia and China of aiming to “sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant”.
She said their “intransigence is even more shameful” because Russia continued to supply weapons to Syria.
“For months this council has been held hostage by a couple of members,” Ms Rice said. “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.
“Any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands.”
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep regret” over the council’s inability to reach consensus, calling it “a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights”, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Moroccan ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, a key sponsor of the resolution, said his country was “frustrated and sad” over the outcome.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that he was encouraged by statements about “the intention to continue diplomatic efforts” and noted that the security council is “not the only diplomatic tool on the planet”.
He said Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and the country’s foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov would meet Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, without providing specifics on the purpose of that trip.
The latest UN resolution repeated all the conditions that Arab League foreign ministers had set in a January 22 decision on Syria, calling for Assad to delegate his powers to a deputy as part of a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic state.
Russia had expressed concerns about the draft text, saying it feared the resolution would lead to the kind of military intervention and regime change seen in Libya after last year’s council action intended to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
After the vote, Mr Churkin accused fellow council members of being inflexible by backing what he called an “unbalanced” resolution that failed to contain measures against armed anti-government groups.
He said his country’s proposed amendments to the resolution had been ignored and the version voted on today “did not adequately reflect the real state of affairs in Syria”.
Chinese ambassador Li Baodong said his country joined Russia in vetoing the resolution because the proposed amendments were not taken into account.
Before the vote, US president Barack Obama had urged the security council to stand up against the Syrian regime, saying Assad had displayed “disdain for human life and dignity” following the attacks in Homs.
“The international community must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality,” he said in a blistering statement issued by the White House.
“Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.”
A mob ransacked the Syrian embassy in Australia today, following attacks on at least six others in Europe and the Middle East.
Police said the mob smashed into the embassy in the capital Canberra and caused extensive damage to the ground floor of the two-storey building.
Syrian charge d’affaires Jawdat Ali said 50 men smashed through the front door, destroyed furniture and stole computers.
A shattered door, broken picture frames and light fixtures as well as smashed pot plants were stacked or lay strewn outside the rented embassy. The embassy’s brass name plaque had been ripped from a wall and lay twisted on the lawn.
Mr Ali said there were two embassy employees in the building at the time, but they were neither harmed nor threatened.
The mob fled before police arrived, and there had been no arrests.
Mr Ali blamed media reports of the Homs shelling for inciting what he described as a “barbarian action” and “terrorism”.
Protesters also broke into the Syrian embassy in London, with 12 people arrested, and a similar scene played out in Athens, Greece, where police said 13 people were detained after forcing their way into the embassy before dawn yesterday.
In Germany, 20 people forced their way into Syria’s embassy in Berlin and damaged offices.
Syrian protesters in Cairo, Egypt, set part of the embassy on fire, while protesters in Kuwait broke windows at the embassy and hoisted the opposition flag. Some 300 Syrian exiles and Libyan supporters also occupied the Syrian embassy in Tripoli and hung the Syrian opposition’s flag on the gate.