Russia and China have again vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution threatening non-military sanctions against Syria.
It was aimed at stepping up pressure on President Bashar Assad’s government to end the escalating 16-month conflict.
Today’s 11-2 vote, with two abstentions, leaves in limbo the future of the 300-strong UN peacekeeping force in Syria, whose mandate expires tomorrow.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who sponsored the Western-backed draft, said he was “appalled” at the third double veto by Russia and China, allies of the Assad regime.
There were two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan.
It was a blow to Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, who had called for “consequences” for non-compliance with his six-point peace plan, which the Assad government has flouted.
The resolution called on Mr Assad to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days.
Mr Annan had requested a delay in yesterday’s vote on the resolution and appealed to the council to unite behind a new resolution, but Moscow would not budge and the West insisted on including the threat of non-military sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
That could eventually open the door to the use of military force.
“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.
Mr Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the envoy “is disappointed that at this critical stage the UN Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped for.”
Mr Churkin told the council he would not put Moscow’s rival draft resolution to a vote to avoid continuing confrontation in the Security Council. Moscow’s proposal called for the “immediate implementation” of Mr Annan’s plan and guidelines for a political transition approved at a meeting in Geneva last month and would have extended the observer mission for 90 days, but it made no mention of sanctions.
Instead, Mr Churkin proposed that council members adopt “a brief depoliticised resolution” extending the mission of the unarmed observers for a limited time to preserve its “useful potential.”
The White House says Russia and China have placed themselves on the “wrong side of history” by using the veto.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the vote was “regrettable” and “highly unfortunate.”
Mr Carney said the lack of UN consensus “will have repercussions for the countries that vetoed the resolution for a long time in terms of how they’re viewed by the Syrian people. Because there is no doubt that Syria’s future will not include Bashar Assad.”