Just one week after President Obama urged the U.N. to impose sanctions on Syria in response to its bloody crackdown on anti-governments protesters, a European-led initiative to threaten Damascus with new penalties in the U.N. Security Council has run off the rails.
Russia’ U.N. envoy Vitaly I. Churkin today blasted the Western call to action, which he characterized as a “clear policy of regime change.” Churkin said that such attempts to determine “who is legitimate and who is not” is fanning violence in Syria, a country that maintains strong strategic ties to Moscow.
The dispute in the 15-nation council comes as the violence has been steadily worsening in Syria. Government forces have killed more than 2,700 civilians engaged in largely peaceful demonstrations, according to the United Nations.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly last week, Obama said it was time for the U.N. to join the U.S. and European governments in punishing the Syrian leadership for its crimes. “There’s no excuse for inaction,” he said. “Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.”
The Security Council’s four European governments, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, first introduced a resolution two months ago that would have imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and more than 20 members of his inner circle. The resolution, which enjoyed U.S. backing, was blocked by Russia, according to council diplomats.
On Tuesday, France’s U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said in a public discussion at the French consulate that his government was taking another shot at forging a tough united response to Syria’s repression, and that he had circulated a watered-down resolution that would merely threaten sanctions.
“Considering that the Russians don’t want sanctions we are going to have a resolution introducing the threat of sanctions…we are sending a warning to Syria if nothing happens in 30 days we will come back to the topic,” Araud said. The French envoy conceded that one might consider the compromise draft “rather weak. But in our world it can be a significant first step. It will be the first time that there will be a resolution against Syria and it will be talking about sanctions.”
Or will it? Churkin’s reaction signaled that Russia, which possesses veto power, is prepared to take a stand on Syria’s behalf. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the international community should focus its efforts on promoting dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition leaders. “It is inadmissible to boycott proposal on a national dialogue, stir up confrontation and provoke violence, while neglecting albeit late but still achievable reforms proposed by president Bashar al-Assad.”
As for Damascus, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem, said Monday that the Syrian government was facing a threat from foreign governments and armed groups, not pro-democracy demonstrators, who are seeking to undermine Syria’s stability. “By targeting the Syrian economic with sanctions, the United States and the European Union jeopardize the interests and basic daily subsistence of the Syrian people.”