x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Russia warns of veto on Arab League peace plan

Russia will block any UN Security Council resolution on Syria it deems to be unacceptable that does not specifically rule out the possibility of military intervention.

Bashar Ja'afari, Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN, speaks at the Security Council meeting on his country.
Bashar Ja'afari, Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN, speaks at the Security Council meeting on his country.

UNITED NATIONS // Russia will use its veto to block any UN Security Council resolution on Syria it deems to be unacceptable that does not specifically rule out the possibility of military intervention, Moscow's envoy to the United Nations said yesterday.

"If the text is unacceptable then we will vote against [it]," Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

"We will not allow a text to be adopted that we consider to be incorrect and will lead to a deepening of the conflict. We are openly telling our partners this."

Arab and western states urged the UN Security Council on Tuesday to act swiftly on a resolution calling for Syria's president Bashar Al Assad to delegate powers to his deputy and defuse the 11-month-old uprising against his family's dynastic rule.

Thousands of civilians and government forces had died in the conflict.

But Russia's envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said there was no chance the text could be accepted unless it precisely rejected armed intervention.

The draft "is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside" he said.

"For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted." Russia and China, who both wield a veto on the Security Council, have resisted a western push for a resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on unrest.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the resolution could not be used to authorise military intervention and his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, said such an idea was a myth.

But Mr Chizkov's remarks suggested Moscow, a close strategic ally and important arms supplier to Syria during its 42 years in the grip of the Al Assad family, would not accept such assurances.

Russian officials at the UN will not discuss in detail the country's interests in Syria. But Moscow has mounted fierce opposition to a proposed arms embargo. In 2010, Russia sold Syria US$700 million (Dh2.57bn) in weapons, about 7 per cent of all Russian foreign arms sales, according to Cast, a Russian defence think tank.

Russian warships also dock at the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus, giving them an important warm water harbour.

Russia has said the West exploited fuzzy wording in a March 2011 UN Security Council resolution on Libya to turn a mandate to protect civilians in the North African country's popular uprising into a push for regime change, backed by Nato-led air strikes, that led to the overthrow and death of Muammar Qaddafi.

The Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, who has led the Arab League's efforts to tackle the Syrian crisis, attempted to allay objections by Moscow and Beijing, saying it was trying to avoid a Libyan-style foreign role.

"We are not calling for foreign intervention," he said. "We are advocating the exertion of concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realise that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people."

He told the 15-member Security Council that Syria's "killing machine is still at work".

At least 56 people died yesterday in attacks by Syrian government forces, Al Jazeera television reported. In figures released yesterday, the UN has said more than 5,400 people have been killed in the conflict.

Russia has also expressed concern that the draft's threat of "further measures" against Syria could lead to sanctions, which it opposes. Its diplomats also want to remove the draft's support for the Arab League's plan for Mr Al Assad to cede power.

"The council cannot prescribe ready recipes for the outcome of domestic political processes," said Mr Churkin. "We don't want the Security Council to say what king has to resign and what prime minster needs to step down."

Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League secretary general, told the council that "we are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention".

"We are trying to do this in an Arab context. We have asked the Security Council to support our plan, not to take its place.

"Do not let the Syrian people down," Mr Elaraby said. "We need a clear resolution supporting the Arab League's endeavour."

The US strongly endorsed the appeal from the Arab League and Qatar for "rapid and decisive action", but China reiterated its reservations.

"China is firmly opposed to the use of force to solve the Syrian problem and resolutely opposes pushing for forced regime change in Syria, as it violates the United Nations Charter and the basic norms guiding the practice of international relations," Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Li Baodong, as telling the Security Council.

The Syrian UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, rejected the suggestion his government was responsible for the crisis and accused western powers of dreaming of "the return of colonialism and hegemony" in the Middle East.

"How strange it is to see members of the Arab League resort to the Security Council to take action against Syria, who has always sacrificed for Arab causes," said Mr Ja'afari.

He chastised the league for taking its cause "to a Security Council that has vetoed hundreds of times against Arab interests ... and came here without Syria's consent and therefore continues its interference in Syrian affairs".

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the policy of isolation and seeking regime change risked igniting a "much bigger drama" in the Middle East.

"The people who are obsessed with removing regimes in the region, they should be really thinking about the broader picture. And I'm afraid that if this vigour to change regimes persists, we are going to witness a very bad situation much, much, much broader than just Syria, Libya, Egypt or any other single country."

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, yesterday urged the international community to agree on a resolution. "We cannot wait any longer until the political process is finished while many people are being killed," Mr Ban told reporters during a visit to Jerusalem.


* With reports from the Associated Press, Agence-France Presse, Reuters and Bloomberg News