“The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year,” Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the council after the vote. She later condemned the decision by Russia and China to veto the resolution — the third time they had blocked a measure seeking to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — as “pitiful and deeply regrettable.”
As permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council, Russia and China, both longtime allies of Assad, have veto power. Both had been open about their opposition to the resolution in the days leading up to the vote. Eleven nations voted in favor of the resolution, with Pakistan and South Africa abstaining.
The rejection of the measure raised serious doubts about the long-term viability of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at the end of Friday. Although U.N. personnel had been severely restricted in their ability to monitor the situation in Syria, they have provided critical information about the violence.
At a news conference in Damascus before the vote, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the mission, was notably downbeat. “It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria, and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that,” he said.
Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League emissary to Syria, whose peace plan is effectively moribund, was “disappointed that at this critical stage the U.N. Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped for,” according to his spokesman.
There were indications that the West was unprepared to abruptly withdraw the monitors from Syria. Britain circulated a short resolution that would extend the mandate of the mission for 30 days. Rice said that although the United States would no longer “pin its policy” on unarmed U.N. observers who lacked even “minimal support” from the Security Council, Washington might support an extension to allow for the monitors’ safe and orderly withdrawal.
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, defended the veto, saying the resolution was “biased” in threatening only the Syrian government with sanctions without doing anything to constrain an armed opposition movement that has carried out a series of ever more violent attacks against government targets — including a devastating strike Wednesday that reached into the heart of Assad’s national security leadership.