WASHINGTON – Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a Security Council resolution backing an Arab League peace plan that calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down amid escalating violence.
The other 13 members of the council, including the United States, Britain and France, voted in an unusual weekend session in favor of the resolution aimed at stopping the ongoing violence in Syria.
The rare double-veto was issued following days of negotiations aimed at overcoming Russian opposition to the draft resolution. Several European envoys said before the session that they felt compelled to call for the vote despite Russia’s attempts to seek a delay because of the escalating violent crackdown by Assad’s regime.
The urgency was heightened by an assault by Syrian forces firing mortars and artillery on the city of Homs. Activists said more than 200 people were killed in what they called one of the bloodiest episodes of the uprising against Assad. The U.N. says more than 5,400 people have been killed over almost 11 months in a government crackdown on civilian protests.
“It is a sad day for this council, a sad day for Syrians and a sad day for all friends of democracy,” French Ambassador Gerard Araud said after the resolution was vetoed.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said her country was “disgusted” by the vote.
Araud said Russia and China had “made themselves complict in a policy of repression carried out by the Assad regime.”
Syria has been a key Russian ally since Soviet times and Moscow has opposed any U.N. call that could be interpreted as advocating military intervention or regime change. Russia and China also used their veto powers as permanent council members in October to block a previous Western attempt to condemn the violence in Syria.
“Today the Security Council has failed to live up to its responsiblty,” German Ambassador Peter Wittig said. “The people in Syria have been let down again.”
Earlier Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a security conference in Munich, Germany, that Moscow still had two problems of “crucial importance” with the draft council resolution on the violence in Syria.
Lavrov said the resolution makes too few demands of anti-government armed groups, and that Moscow remains concerned that it could prejudge the outcome of a national dialogue among political forces in Syria.
Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that he and Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov, will meet with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.