Arab countries and Muslim organizations are reacting angrily to a veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council draft resolution based on an Arab League plan to end the violence in Syria.
Western governments also issued highly critical remarks about Moscow’s veto, suggesting Russia is more interested in protecting a naval base it leases from Syria and lucrative weapons contracts with President Bashar al-Assad’s government than preventing the killing of thousands of people.
Russia has repeatedly referred to the draft UN resolution as being written by Western powers. In fact, it was drafted by Arab League countries and submitted to the Security Council by Morocco — with Western backing — after Arab League monitors witnessed Syrian Army snipers killing unarmed antiregime protesters.
The Arab League’s plan called for Assad to step down and be replaced by his deputy until elections can be held. Russia said it put too much blame on Assad’s regime for the deaths in Syria.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on February 5 that Arab states will not stop trying to resolve the Syrian crisis. He said the Russian and Chinese veto “does not negate that there is clear international support for the resolutions of the Arab League.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote in a Twitter message on February 5 that “the authors of the draft Syria resolution, unfortunately, did not want to undertake an extra effort and come to a consensus.”
The Arab League reacted to the Russian and Chinese veto by calling on the Syrian government to heed the demands of the Syrian people. The Arab League stressed that its plan — contrary to claims from Moscow — would not allow international military strikes against Syria and that it sought to avoid any foreign military intervention.
At an international security conference in Munich on February 5, Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman declared his “complete condemnation” of Assad’s regime. Karman called on all Arab countries to immediately eject Syrian diplomats to show their opposition to the regime’s ongoing crackdown against pro-democracy activists.
Tunisia, which has cut off its diplomatic ties with Damascus, called on Arab governments around the world to follow its lead.
The Islamist leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood called on Muslims and Arabs around the world to boycott Russian and Chinese goods. Hammam Said described the Russian and Chinese veto as an attack “against all Arabs and Muslims” — accusing both countries of “taking part in the killing of Syrian people.”
In Libya, crowds of exiled Syrians chanted anti-Russian slogans and stormed Moscow’s Tripoli embassy, replacing the Russian flag there with the new Syrian flag.
Seven Syrian embassies from London to Australia also were stormed during the weekend by demonstrators angry about deadly government attacks in the Syrian city of Homs. In Cairo, demonstrators torched the Syrian Embassy.
Syria’s opposition has appealed for international backing, but beleaguered fighters in Homs said the UN vote shows the only way they can protect themselves is through a full-scale civil war.
U.S. President Barack Obama accused Assad’s government of “relentless brutality.” Speaking on a visit to Bulgaria on February 5, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the Russian and Chinese veto as a “travesty.”
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said she was “disgusted” by the veto and accused Russia and China of selling out the Syrian people.
“The international community must protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality,” Rice said. “But a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.”
Russia Blames West
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, speaking on February 5 at an international security conference in Munich, said Assad “has no future.”
“We call on him to make the way free for peaceful change. And it is necessary that this is conveyed as a clear message by the whole of the international community,” Westerwelle said.
“We will also talk with the Russian government again this week and we will see if the trip to Damascus by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which has been announced for this week, will lead to a further understanding of the situation on the Russian side and perhaps allow movement,” Westerwelle continued. “In any case, everything must be done.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Russian and Chinese veto had “paralyzed” the international community.
But Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, blamed Western powers for undermining any chance for reconciliation between Assad’s government and the opposition.
“The decision of the Security Council should not be won because some influential members of the international community, including those sitting around this table, from the beginning of the Syrian process have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for a regime change, pushing the opposition towards power, and not stopping provocation and feeding armed methods of struggle,” Churkin said.
Lavrov and Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov, are due to meet Assad in Damascus on February 7. Syria’s opposition already has rejected any negotiations with Assad’s regime through Russian mediation, saying Assad must first go.
Top photo: A picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sprayed with red paint lies on the ground next to a Russian flag about to be set on fire by protesters during a demonstration outside the Russian Embassy in Beirut , Lebanon on February 5.