European push for UN condemnation of Syria fails

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A European push for the UN Security Council to condemn Syria’s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters was blocked on Wednesday by resistance from Russia, China and Lebanon, envoys said.

“There will be no statement,” a Security Council diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this week Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated to the other 11 council members a draft statement condemning the crackdown, in which hundreds have been reported killed, and urging restraint by the Damascus government, Reuters reports.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also supported the push.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters that “the positions were so much far apart that negotiating a press statement would take so much time that we preferred to have immediately … a public session to transmit the message.” He said a statement might be issued at some point in the future.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an independent investigation of the killings, though Syria said it was capable of investigating the protesters’ deaths itself.

Permanent veto-wielding council members Russia and China have become increasingly critical of the U.N.-backed intervention to protect civilians in Libya. U.N. diplomats say Moscow and Beijing worry that the intervention aims to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“Their tolerance of U.S. and European attempts to protect civilians in the Middle East appears to have dissipated,” a U.N. official told Reuters.

Diplomats said the Lebanese delegation also opposed the idea of condemning Syria. Lebanon, the sole Arab nation on the Security Council, has had a troubled relationship with its neighbour and Syrian influence remains strong there.

Last week the Council failed to agree a similar statement condemning Yemen’s crackdown against protesters, who have demanded greater freedoms and called on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

DIVIDED COUNCIL

Wednesday’s public Council debate on Syria that replaced the proposed statement highlighted the differences in the 15-nation body on the issue.

Rice and other Western delegates denounced what they called repression of peaceful demonstrators, backed Ban’s call for an independent inquiry and voiced scepticism about Syrian reforms, such as the lifting of decades-old emergency rule.
“All announcements of reforms are undermined by the ongoing violence,” said German Ambassador Peter Wittig, who like several other Western speakers warned of possible sanctions by the European Union and others. The prospect of sanctions by the divided Security Council looks remote.

But most other speakers took a cautious line, urging restraint and a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Russian envoy Alexander Pankin said the Syrian situation “does not present a threat to international peace and security” — a condition for Security Council involvement — and that the violence “does not all originate from one side.”
“A real threat to regional security, in our view, could arise from outside interference in Syria’s domestic situation, including attempts to push ready-made solutions or taking of sides,” he said in a clear hit at the West.

In a defiant speech, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari blamed the violence on “extremist groups whose fundamental objective is clearly the fall of the Syrian government.” The authorities had shown the “utmost restraint,” he said.
“Some of the statements we heard today can only be considered an encouragement to extremism and terrorism,” Ja’afari said, repeating allegations from Damascus that foreign forces were inciting the unrest.



France’s Araud dismissed the allegation. “Every dictatorship facing opposition usually says there is foreign involvement,” he told reporters. “So it’s not new.”