Russia and China early Wednesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening action against Syria’s deadly crackdown on protests, opening up bitter international divisions over the Arab Spring.
Amid new deaths in Syria and new threats of individual sanctions, the veto sparked the outrage of European nations, which proposed the resolution, and the United States, which said the council had “utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge.”
Nine countries voted for the text which had called for “targeted measures” if President Bashar al-Assad pursues his clampdown, which the UN says has left at least 2,700 dead.
Russia and China voted against, killing the resolution because of their veto power as permanent council members. South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon abstained, reaffirming a divide in the 15-member body since NATO launched air strikes in Libya using U.N. resolutions to justify the action.
China said Wednesday that a U.N. Security Council resolution against Syria would have “blindly” pressured the Arab nation without easing the situation.
“Some countries submitted a draft resolution to blindly impose pressure and even threatened sanctions against Syria. This would not help to ease the situation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement, according to AFP.
Russia’'s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said the European resolution was “based on a philosophy of confrontation.” The threat of action was “unacceptable,” he added.
France, meanwhile, said the decision by Russia and China to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution targeting Syria marked a “sad day for the Syrian people” and for the council itself.
“The Security Council should not remain silent in the face of the Syrian tragedy,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.
“The failure of the Syria resolution is very regrettable. The U.N. Security Council has not lived up to its responsibility for peace and security in the world,” said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a statement from Berlin.
“Germany will continue to push, both internationally and especially within the European Union, for a clear position and pressure on the Syrian regime,” added the minister.
Many opponents raised the air strikes in Libya and fears that it could be renewed in Syria to justify their votes.
Tough and targeted sanctions
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice called the comments a “cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.”
Rice called on the council to impose “tough, targeted sanctions” and an arms embargo against Syria.
“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” she said.
The U.S. ambassador later led her delegation out of the council chamber after Syria’s ambassador Bashar Jaafari accused the United States of “genocide” in a long attack on the western countries.
Russia has proposed an alternative resolution, which condemns the opposition violence as well as that of the government and calls for dialogue to end the crisis. The European nations vowed however that it would not come to a vote.
The double veto by Russia and China was a “vote against the Arab Spring,” France’s U.N. envoy Gerard Araud said outside the council chamber.
“This veto will not stop us. No veto can give carte blanche to the Syrian authorities,” Araud told the 15-nation council, Reuters reported.
Western governments and human rights watchdogs have expressed mounting criticism of the council’s failure to adopt any resolution on Syria, which has since mid-March been shaken by an unprecedented protest movement Assad has sought to crush using deadly force.
Assad still in control
Assad had managed to maneuver Syria into being courted by the West while maintaining an alliance with Iran and backing militant groups, but the crackdown -- he has sent tanks and troops into towns and cities across the country to crush demonstrations -- have left him with few stalwart allies.
The Syrian economy is reeling from U.S. and European Union sanction on the small but key oil sector, which is linked to the Assad family and ruling elites, according to Reuters.
Foreign currency reserves are under pressure, forcing the state last month to impose a sweeping ban on imports in a effort to maintain the reserves. But the ban was rescinded on Tuesday, after a spike in prices and disquiet among an influential merchant class that has been backing Assad.
Canada announced new sanctions against Syrian oil exports and investment in its oil fields. The government also added 27 people said to be close to Assad and 12 entities linked to the government to a list of people or companies facing a travel ban and assets freeze.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for the proposed U.N. resolution and said he would soon announce sanctions against neighboring Syria.
At least 2,700 civilians have been killed in Syria, by a United Nations count. Assad has said any other country would have responded to the uprising by using similar tactics.
The authorities blame “armed terrorist groups” backed by unspecified foreign powers for violence and say that 800 security-force members have been killed.
After months of peaceful protests, some army deserters and dissidents have taken up arms, prompting military operations against them, especially in areas bordering Turkey and Jordan.
Army defectors safe in Turkey
Turkey’s Anatolian news agency quoted Colonel Riad al-Asaad, the most senior Syrian officer to defect to the opposition since the popular revolt erupted in March, as saying he was safe in Turkey.
The agency’s report was datelined Hatay in southern Turkey, where 7,000 Syrians have fled to escape Assad’s crackdown on protesters.
Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul on Sunday appealed for international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the Syrian authorities, but rejected any Libya-style military intervention.
Syria for the most part has closed its doors to independent media, making it hard to verify events, but a trickle of desertions appears to have gathered pace in the last several weeks.
Amnesty International meanwhile highlighted cases where Syrian activists had been attacked in other countries and called for stronger action against “Syrian embassies” behind such intimidation.
The rights watchdog said it had documented cases of attacks and intimidation against 30 Syrian activists in Britain, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United States.
France confirmed it had launched an investigation after thugs attacked a protest in Paris.
A foreign ministry spokesman said arrests had been made and extra police protection assigned to Syrian opposition protests after the Aug. 26 attack.
In Sweden, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt warned: “If there are diplomats who engage in activities in this country that are not compatible with their diplomatic status they are not welcome in Sweden.”