By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, July 11 -- Russia and China on Friday vetoed a U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and sanctioned President Robert Mugabe and his top advisers for rigging the country's presidential elections.
Russian and Chinese envoys said U.N. sanctions amounted to unwarranted interference in Zimbabwe's domestic affairs and would have threatened preliminary talks between Mugabe's government and representatives of his chief political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, to resolve the country's crisis.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, belittled the U.S. initiative as a scheme to use the U.N. Security Council -- which deals with threats to international peace and security -- to punish its political opponents. "We have seen an ever more obvious attempt to take the council beyond its prerogative," Churkin said. "We consider such action to be illegitimate and dangerous. . . . We intend to continue countering this trend."
The United States and Britain assailed the veto, saying it would hurt efforts to bring democracy to Zimbabwe. "China and Russia have stood with Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe," Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the U.S. draft was blocked.
Khalilzad reserved his harshest criticism for Russia, saying it had reneged on its July 8 commitment at a Group of Eight summit to introduce "financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for violence" in Zimbabwe. "The Russian performance here today raises questions about its reliability as a G-8 partner," he said.
Churkin reacted forcefully to a similar charge by Britain's U.N. ambassador, John Sawers. The Russian envoy said it was "irresponsible and factually incorrect" to claim Russia committed to U.N. sanctions at the G-8 summit. He said the statement made no mention of Security Council action.
The United States and Britain mustered the nine votes required for the resolution to pass in the 15-nation council. The measure would have imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Mugabe and 13 senior military and civilian advisers. South Africa, Libya and Vietnam also voted against the resolution. Indonesia abstained.
South Africa led opposition to the resolution, arguing that efforts to punish Mugabe would undercut efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate a power-sharing agreement between the Zimbabwean government and opposition -- an argument that even some of Mugabe's African critics supported. "The political option should take precedence over the punitive option," Tanzania's U.N. ambassador, Augustine P. Mahiga, told the council.
But Khalilzad countered that Mbeki is "working hand-in-glove" with Mugabe. Khalilzad said that Mugabe has used violence to fragment the opposition while Mbeki has used diplomacy to do the same.