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Syria Veto ‘Outrageous’ Says UN Envoy Susan Rice

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
February 5, 2012

For nearly a year, Syria’s government has sustained a violent crackdown against opposition protesters. The international community has struggled to agree on a unified response, and on Saturday, the latest effort to bring pressure on Syria’s leaders fell apart.

Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian government for attacks against civilians. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was “disgusted” by the double veto.

“The international community must protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality,” she said on Saturday. “But a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.”

A Chance To Back The Arab League Lost

It was a missed opportunity, Rice tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin.

“It was an Arab-sponsored text, and what made it important was that it was the Arab League, for the first time, coming to the UN asking the Security Council to back their initiative.” She says.

The purpose of the resolution was to politically back the Arab initiative, Rice says, which called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to delegate responsibility to his vice president for negotiating a democratic transition.

It was a significant resolution, she says, but also one that had been carefully adjusted to meet the concerns of many member states – including Russia and China.

“What Moscow came back with at the 11th hour were really amendments designed to be impossible for the rest of the council to take,” Rice says.

The vote came amid reports that more than 200 people were killed in the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday. Rice says that made Russia and China’s veto that much more frustrating.

“First of all, we all felt that it was outrageous in any instance for Russia and China to veto a resolution that was really a political expression of support for the Arab League initiative and for the people of Syria and a condemnation of violence,” she says.

“But it was even more outrageous that they would do so at a time when Assad was stepping up the killing in such a horrific way.”

What Now?

Now that the vote is over, the international community’s options are looking slim. “What it means,” Rice says, “is that many more Syrians, innocent Syrians, are going to be killed by their government.”

The Arab League will have to regroup, Rice says. “They will have our support and assistance and that of most of the international community to end the violence and allow the people of Syria to have the future of peace and freedom that they deserve.”

It’s too early to predict much else, she says, including military pressure. “We want to use diplomatic means to support the people of Syria. That has been their preference all along. We will also continue to use economic pressure. The opposition in Syria is yearning for a political settlement to that. They’re not requesting external military intervention — nor did the Arab League, in fact.”

“We’ll have to see if Russia and China, when they feel the full weight of the outrage of response to their actions in the region and in Syria, change course,” she continues. “And if they don’t, we will certainly look at every means at our disposal to increase pressure on Assad. His days are numbered. There’s no question that this regime cannot endure. The only question is how many people will die before it ends.”

Russian officials are traveling to Damascus this week to talk with Syria’s leaders. They have a great deal of influence in Syria, Rice says, able to pressure the Assad regime if they chose to do so. “Unfortunately, rather than pressure the regime, thus far they have chosen to coddle and protect it.”

Meanwhile, the Arab League has to figure out what to do about Syria next. “They’re not giving up, we’re not giving up,” Rice says. “We will fight to support the people of Syria until their legitimate democratic aspirations are realized.” [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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