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Western effort to end Assad’s crackdown fails

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that called on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to respect human rights and stop using violence against civilians taking part in a months-long bid to oust the government.

The 15-member council voted 9-2 on the resolution. Four non-permanent members — India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon — abstained.

European officials watered down the text of the resolution several times to try to win the support of Russia and China, which are veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. The other three members with veto powers are the U.S., France and Britain.

A Western diplomat in New York, who spoke to The Washington Times on background, said the veto by Russia and China was "disappointing" because their concerns had been taken into consideration as the text of the resolution was amended.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., expressed outrage at the council's failure to pass the resolution.

"This is a sad day. Most especially for the people of Syria, but also for the U.N. Security Council," she wrote in a Twitter post.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country did not support Mr. Assad's regime or the violence but opposed the resolution because it was "based on a philosophy of confrontation," contained "an ultimatum of sanctions" and was against a peaceful settlement of a crisis, the Associated Press reported.

China's Ambassador Li Baodong said his country opposed the resolution because "sanctions, or threat of sanctions, do not help the situation in Syria but rather complicates the situation."

Meanwhile, an Iranian media report claimed that Mr. Assad had threatened to "set fire" to the Middle East in the event of Western military invention, but a senior Turkish official disputed the account.

Syria's 6-month-old uprising has turned increasingly bloody, with regime forces targeting locales where newly formed groups of army defectors have taken refuge.

A Western diplomat who spoke on background to reporters in Washington said anti-regime protests in Syria had not yet reached a "tipping point" but suggested that international pressure could change things.

An earlier draft had recommended "targeted measures" against the Syrian regime.

Russia wanted language explicitly blocking foreign powers from getting involved in Syria's internal affairs.

The final text of the resolution, provided to The Times before the vote, did not include some of the language to which Russia had objected. The text:

• Reaffirmed "strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Syria."

• Expressed concern about the situation in Syria and the potential for further escalation of violence.

• Condemned the Syrian authorities for systematic human rights violations and the use of force against civilians and called on the regime to stop.

The resolution said the only solution to the crisis is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that addresses the "legitimate aspirations" of the people.

Russia and China have been reluctant to support a tougher line against the Assad regime, citing concerns about Syria's sovereignty.

"The blame is on [Russia and China], not on us," said the Western diplomat, defending the absence of stronger language in the European draft.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had worked closely on the issue of Russian support for the U.N. resolution.

"The Russians have to make their own decisions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said before the vote. "They have to think hard about whether the Security Council is going to be effective here in sending a strong message to a bloody, bloody regime."

China shares Russia's concerns about Syrian sovereignty.

"The international community should respect Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, take a cautious approach in dealing with the Syrian issue so as to prevent the situation from becoming further turbulent and regional peace and stability being endangered," said Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

Hamdi Rifai, director of Arab Americans for Democracy in Syria, said Syrian activists had traveled to Russia in July to seek the government's support for a strong U.N. resolution.

"That seems to have been a wasted effort," he said.

"The fact that a few nations can hold back the whole world doesn't bode well for the U.N., and it especially doesn't bode well for the Syrian people," he added.

In March, Russia and China abstained from voting on a U.N. resolution that imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and tightened sanctions on Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Western officials said there is no prospect of the Security Council approving similar action in Syria.

"Morally, there is a great similarity between [the situation in Libya and that in Syria], but there is no practical prospect of getting a mandate for military action," the Western diplomat said.

A second U.S. diplomat noted that, unlike Libya, Syria has no rebel-held cities and few high-ranking army defections. "The opposition is not going be able to overthrow the government by force," he said. "This is not a repeat of Libya."

On Tuesday, Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency claimed that Mr. Assad, during a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had threatened a regional war in the event of Western military intervention.

Mr. Assad said Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon would launch hundreds of rockets into Israel and Iran would attack U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, according to the report.

But a senior Turkish official told The Times that the Iranian news report was "completely untrue."

Ben Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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