As she entered the chamber for the special Saturday February 4th meeting of the Security Council, the U.S. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that Russia’s amendments were “unacceptable.” She and her colleagues from France and the United Kingdom insisted that, regardless of what Russia would do, the Security Council must vote without delay on the final draft version of the resolution proposed by Morocco and sponsored by sixteen other member states, including several other Arab countries and Turkey. That resolution would not include the Russian amendments.
Ironically, as noted above, the final version of the draft resolution already contained many of the concessions that Russia had demanded, which were far more significant than its last-minute amendments that Rice and her colleagues found so objectionable.
More specifically, the Russian amendments added language calling “for all sections of the Syrian opposition to dissociate themselves from armed groups engaged in acts of violence and urges member-states and all those in a position to do so to use their influence to prevent continued violence by such groups.” Assad would be expected to pull out his military forces from the cities and towns “in conjunction with the end of attacks by armed groups.” The resolution would still say that the Council “[F]ully supports…the League of Arab States’ 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system.” However, the Russian amendments would replace “in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States” with the words “takes into account” the Arab League timeline.
The Russians were continuing to move the goalposts and evidently trying to delay action on a final resolution through seemingly trivial amendments. But, in the end, all that really mattered was passage of a resolution – any resolution – that expressed the international community’s strong moral support for the Syrian people and endorsement of the Arab League’s constructive role in trying to lead a regional diplomatic solution. Nothing in the Russian amendments would have materially undermined that objective. The UN has no further part to play other than to provide purely humanitarian assistance. International military intervention on the Libyan model is out of the question, as it should be. Economic sanctions, to the extent they have any real effect, are something that individual countries and regional groups can implement on their own, without any UN imprimatur.
The Obama administration could have accepted Russia’s amendments on the condition that Russia would agree (along with China) to an immediate vote on Saturday without a veto, as a demonstration that the world community was not turning a blind eye while Syrian civilians continued to be slaughtered on the very day that the Security Council was meeting. There was no guarantee that Russian and China would have gone along, but it was a gamble worth taking to keep the resolution alive.
Instead, after more than an hour of informal consultations among the Security Council members that included Russia and China, no agreement on the Russian amendments was reached. Led by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, a decision was made to push for a vote on the resolution immediately without Russia’s amendments. The Obama administration elected to act tough at the wrong time over trivial wording changes.
Predictably, Russia and China vetoed the resolution and it was thereby defeated, even though thirteen members of the Council voted in favor of the resolution.
Susan Rice exclaimed with righteous indignation how “disgusted” the United States was that two members of the Council were willing to “sell out the Syrian people.” She emphasized in her statement to the Council following the vote that the vetoed resolution had taken care of all of the principal concerns raised by its opponents. The resolution, she pointed out, expressly ruled out any contemplation of international military force. Moreover, there was no mention in the resolution of economic sanctions or any arms embargo.
Nevertheless, Rice said, Russia and China prevented the Council from providing international backing for the Arab League’s peace plan to bring about an end to the violence in Syria and facilitate concrete steps towards a democratic process designed by the Syrian people themselves.
Rice blasted what she called Russia’s “wrecking amendments.” Referring to Russia and China, she warned that “any further bloodshed will be on their hands.”
Rice vastly overstated her case by not seeing the forest for the trees. Russia’s amendments were annoying speed bumps, but hardly constituted “wrecking” roadblocks. Any further bloodshed will continue to be on Assad’s hands, with or without a Security Council resolution.
All the United Nations could have done was to shine with laser-like focus the world’s condemnation upon Assad’s shameful brutality. Passage of a Security Council resolution, even with Russia’s amendments, would have accomplished that singular purpose. Instead, the failure to pass any resolution at all, despite the urgent pleas of the Arab League, brought further shame on the United Nations itself and gave further lie to the Obama administration’s supposed “reset” of American relations with Russia.
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