China And Russia Veto U.N. Resolution Threatening Sanctions On Syria

Jul 19, 2012
Originally published on July 19, 2012 3:38 pm

China and Russia this morning vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that could permit sanctions against Syria unless the government of President Bashar Assad stops using weapons against civilians. This is the third time China and Russia have rebuffed measures pushed by the United States and its allies to try to bring a halt to Syria's violent civil conflict.

Today's move wasn't a surprise — The Associated Press says Russia, which supports Syrian president Assad, accused Western allies of writing the resolution to show support for the rebels.

NPR's Jackie Northam says peace envoy and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had asked that the vote be delayed by a day to work toward an agreement; today, it didn't materialize.

China did strongly condemn yesterday's bombing in Damascus that killed the Syrian defense minister and two key aides to Assad, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

With the resolution rejected, the fate of the U.N.'s unarmed observer mission in Syria is in doubt. The mission's mandate expires tomorrow, and it's not clear whether it will be extended. Even if their stay is lengthened, it's not clear how much the monitors can do. They've mostly remained in quarters because the fighting has grown much worse.

Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. No Guarantee, But Resolution Would Have Offered Some Hope, Ambassador Rice Says:

"There was no guarantee that the resolution Russia and China vetoed would have changed the dynamic" in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel this afternoon. "But it was the only hope that action by the [Security] Council would change the dynamic."

Rice said the resolution "would have signaled the readiness of the Security Council to impose sanctions on the [Syrian] government 10 days from now" if the Assad regime continues to use heavy weapons on its people and refuse to abide by the peace plan crafted by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

With the veto, Rice added, the U.N. observer mission in Syria has been "dealt a death knell. ... They can't monitor the implementation of a plan that's not been adhered to by the government."

China and Russia, Rice said, "have consigned the Syrian people" to more violence and have "increased the risk of the conflict spilling over into the region." The U.S., she said, will continue to "ratchet up even further" the political and economic pressure on the Assad regime. The U.S. will also, she said, continue to support the peaceful opposition in Syria and to give the armed opposition "non-lethal support."

Much more from her conversation with Robert will be on All Things Considered later today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Condemns Decision By Russia And China:

"It's pitiful and deeply regretful" that Russia and China blocked the resolution, Ambassador Susan Rice said earlier today. She's tentatively set to talk with All Things Considered this afternoon. We'll update with news from that conversation.

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Joining us now from New York is Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Welcome to the program once again.

AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: You've called this a dark day. But given the Assad regime's response so far to the Annan mission, why should we have expected the resolution that was vetoed today, to have led the Syrian leader to relinquish power?

RICE: Well, Robert, there was no guarantee that the resolution that the Russians and the Chinese vetoed, would have changed the dynamic. But it was the only hope that action by the council could change the dynamic. The resolution would have made more binding under the enforcement provisions of the charter - Chapter 7 - the Annan six-point plan that the government has committed to implement, and refused to do so; and the political transition plan that came out of the Geneva meeting back in June.

And very importantly, it would have signaled the readiness of the Security Council to impose sanctions on the government 10 days from now, if they continue to use heavy weapons and violate their security commitments. It would have put Russia and China on the side of the rest of the international community; and saying to Assad that he had to stop, or there would be meaningful economic consequences.

SIEGEL: Would it go farther than meaningful economic consequences, and also authorize the use of force in Syria?

RICE: No. That - the resolution that was vetoed today did nothing of the sort. And that's one of the great ironies of this veto; and the Russians and the Chinese distorting - willfully - the substance of that resolution, trying to portray it as the start of military intervention. It was no such thing.

SIEGEL: Are the U.S. - and Britain and France, for that matter - paying a price now for Libya, when the Russians felt that the NATO air campaign went beyond what they thought the U.N. Security Council had approved?

RICE: No, Robert. That's a very popular Russian talking point. But in fact, I think anybody who knows the situation in Syria, and how Russia perceives its interests, understands that had there been no Libya, Russian attitudes and behavior in protecting Assad in Syria would probably be absolutely identical - given their military relationship, given their intelligence relationship and their historical ties. So the Russians and the Chinese like to invoke Libya as an excuse for their inaction on Syria, but it is nothing more than an excuse.

SIEGEL: Is this failure of the resolution today - the votes by Russia and China, defeating the Security Council - does this effectively end the U.N.'s role in the Syrian crisis?

RICE: It effectively prompts the rapid wind-down of the observer mission presence. There have been 300 unarmed military observers who were meant to monitor the implementation of the Annan plan, and they can't monitor the implementation of a plan that's not been adhered to by the government. So that portion of the U.N. involvement was dealt a death knell by Russia and China today. Whether Kofi Annan can continue to play a political role, and to try to find - salvage out of this wreckage a path forward on a political transition, we hope so. We think that's, however, low probability an outcome. It's the best-case outcome.

SIEGEL: But let's pursue this idea of a political transition, that Kofi Annan has been trying to negotiate. Does he claim that there actually are potential transitional leaders who would be acceptable to both the opposition and to the Assad regime?

RICE: That is the premise of the plan he laid out, that was endorsed in Geneva; that there are elements of the opposition, and elements that the government might put forward - perhaps either from within the government, or outside of the government but acceptable to the government - that could together negotiate the contours of a political transition.

SIEGEL: With the assumption that Bashar al-Assad would relinquish power?

RICE: There is no reasonable outcome to this process that does what Annan and his plan are committed to do, which is to realize the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Syrian people, that could possibly include Assad staying in power.

SIEGEL: But doesn't the prospect of that kind of negotiated transition - a soft landing for Syria, as some say - isn't that a lot less likely today, following yesterday's bombing of the top aides to President Assad?

RICE: Well, yesterday's bombing, or attack, certainly was a dramatic development - and may have complicated the calculations of both sides. But the reality is, these political transitions are difficult to effect, but not impossible. We saw such a thing occur in Yemen after an assassination attempt on former President Saleh himself, that gravely injured him. So it is not without prospect or possibility, but it has always been a complicated pursuit.

SIEGEL: Before you leave us, look forward a little bit. What do you do now? I mean, you can propose the same kind of resolution at the Security Council, and the Russians and the Chinese are likely to veto it again. So what do you do?

RICE: Well, the Russians and the Chinese have consigned the Syrian people to continued conflict and violence, with no prospect of the international community being able to effectively mitigate it - at least through action in the Security Council. They've also increased the risk of the conflict spilling over into the region, which is not in anybody's interests, including theirs.

For the United States' part, we've been very clear. We're going to continue to provide support to the peaceful opposition - political support. We're going to continue to provide non-lethal military support to the armed opposition. We're going to continue to provide robust humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. And we will increasingly be working with partners outside of the context of the Security Council, to ratchet up even further the already quite significant pressure on the Assad regime.

SIEGEL: Meaning, not just diplomatic but the military pressure on the Syrian regime. Is that what you're saying?

RICE: We are certainly talking about increasing political pressure, economic pressure. And supporting the opposition has been U.S. policy for some months, with the full panoply of non-lethal instruments at our disposal.

SIEGEL: Madam Ambassador, thank you very much for talking with us.

RICE: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.