By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW – Russia said on Wednesday it would veto any U.N. resolution on Syria that it finds unacceptable, after demanding any measure rule out military intervention to halt the bloodshed touched off by protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The political violence in Syria has killed at least 5,000 people in the past 10 months and activists say Assad’s forces have stepped up operations this week on opposition strongholds, from Damascus suburbs to the cities of Hama, Homs and the border provinces of Deraa and Idlib.
Arab and Western states urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to act swiftly on a resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Assad to hand powers to his deputy and defuse the 11-month-old uprising against his family’s dynastic rule.
“If the text will be unacceptable for us we will vote against it, of course,” Russian U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters in Moscow via a videolink from New York.
“If it is a text that we consider erroneous, that will lead to a worsening of the crisis, we will not allow it to be passed. That is unequivocal,” he said. His remarks came hours after Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said there was no chance the Western-Arab draft text could be accepted unless it expressly rejected armed intervention.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members, have resisted a Western push for a resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on unrest.
U.N. Security Council ambassadors met in New York on Wednesday to discuss ways to overcome their disagreements on the wording of the European-Arab draft resolution that Morocco submitted to council members on Friday.
The closed-door negotiations ended without a final agreement and will resume on Thursday, Germany’s U.N. mission said. The draft will be updated to reflect Wednesday’s discussions, which the mission said were “rather constructive.”
A council diplomat at the meeting told Reuters, however, that Churkin reiterated to council members that the expression of full support for the Arab League plan in the current draft was “unacceptable.” He also made clear Moscow could not accept the expression of concern in the draft about arms sales to Syria unless there was a waver for weapons transfers to the Syrian government, the diplomat said.
“It’s way too soon in my judgment to know whether ultimately there will be agreement,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters, adding, “It’s long past time for this council to take meaningful action.” Despite the Russian comments, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said a “window of hope” had opened. “We will work furiously in the next few days to try and get a resolution that will allow the Arab League to forge ahead in finding a solution,” he told parliament in Paris.
Russia says the West exploited fuzzy wording in a March 2011 U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya to turn a mandate to protect civilians in the North African country’s uprising into a push to remove the government, backed by NATO air strikes, that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia has also expressed concern that the draft’s threat of further measures against Syria could lead to sanctions, which it opposes.
Western envoys in New York said the main sticking point was likely to be not military intervention, on which they said a diplomatic fix was possible, but the resolution’s support for the Arab League plan demanding that Assad give up power. That is seen by Moscow as tantamount to regime change.
The envoys said their biggest challenge would be to reword the draft so that it still endorses the plan but in a way that is weaker than the current version.