U.N. Resolution Against Syria Fails In Security Council

The U.N. Security Council has failed to agree on what to do about Syria's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. Tuesday night, Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning Syria, even after the text was watered down and stripped of any threats of sanctions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary. Good morning. The U.N. Security Council has failed to agree on what to do about Syria's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. Last night, Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning Syria, even after the text was considerably watered down.

MONTAGNE: The draft called for an immediate end to violence and called on Syria to allow fundamental rights and freedoms. It also demanded that it lift all restrictions on media and human rights investigators. The U.S. called the double veto a slap in the face of those Syrians yearning for democracy.

NEARY: In a moment, we'll hear a story about Syrians, including army defectors fleeing the country. First, NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on why it's been such a struggle to get countries on the same page when it comes to responding to the Syria crackdown.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.S. ambassador Susan Rice says it was an outrage that the Security Council - as she put it - utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge.

SUSAN RICE: The courageous people of Syria can now see clearly who on this council supports their yearning for liberty and universal human rights and who does not.

KELEMEN: In addition to the no votes China and Russia, four countries abstained - Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil and India. European diplomats tried to win their support by stripping the resolution of any threats of sanctions and making clear there was no talk of military action.

Speaking on behalf of the authors of the resolution, Britain's ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, says there was nothing in there anyone should have felt the need to oppose.

MARK LYALL GRANT: These vetoes will be seen in the region as a decision to side with a brutal regime, rather than with the people of Syria.

KELEMEN: Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says the signal he was sending with this veto is that opposition figures in Syria need to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad's government. Russia, he explains, has a very different view of what's happening in the region.

VITALY CHURKIN: To claim, as another colleague did, that our veto was against the Arab Spring, well, it's a cute little phrase but not a very serious one because we, of course, do not see the Arab Spring as something which should lead to civil war, and this is where, in our view, things are going in Syria.

KELEMEN: And he says it's not for Washington, London or Paris to decide which leaders are legitimate.

Russia and other council members are eager not to repeat what happened in the case of Libya when, as they see it, a Security Council resolution meant to protect civilians ended up authorizing NATO military action aimed at toppling the government there. At last night's debate, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice angrily brushed off that line of argument.

RICE: This is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.

KELEMEN: Western diplomats say there's no conceivable military option in Syria and they weren't thinking about that when drafting the Security Council resolution. It was meant to step up pressure on Assad's government. As one Western diplomat put it, the resolution vetoed last night was not exactly Plan A. They wanted a resolution with some teeth, but ended up with nothing at all. And France's ambassador is hoping that Assad won't take that as a carte blanche to continue the crackdown. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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