Europeans Face Vetoes of UN Measure Condemning Syrian Repression

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal urged the United Nations Security Council today to adopt a resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters, and faced the prospect of Russian and Chinese vetoes.

“We believe that the world should not stand silent in the face of the outrages that are happening,” Britain’s Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters after the four European nations formally introduced a draft resolution condemning the attacks on protesters and demanding steps to address their grievances.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his government could not support the measure “because we are not persuaded it can help establish dialogue, reach a political settlement and put an end to the violence.” He said Security Council intervention “may have an opposite effect.”

India’s Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said that it was “unlikely” his government would vote for the text and that two countries in the closed Security Council meeting indicated they could “exercise the strongest negative,” meaning a veto by Russia and China.

Puri added that India was concerned that UN intervention in Syria might lead to a repetition of the type of stalemated conflict raging in Libya following a Security Council resolution authorizing military force against Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. He pointed to a provision of the draft calling for the prevention of the sale of arms to Syria as a possible trigger for stronger measures.

Syrian Sanctions

Attacks on protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster have escalated since the U.S. and the European Union announced sanctions against the Syrian leadership in the middle of last month. Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people and detained more than 10,000 since protests began in mid-March, human-rights groups say.

The European sponsors of the draft resolution didn’t indicate when they would call for a vote, saying that it would be “in the coming days” and that further talks would be held tomorrow.

The resolution was tabled after two weeks of negotiations that failed to produce a consensus among the Security Council’s 15 member governments. In an effort to build support, the Europeans added language condemning violence against Syrian security forces and asking “all sides to act with the utmost restraint.”

Syria’s government said this week that 120 of its security personnel were killed in an ambush by “terror groups” in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, a flash point for recent unrest, and that it will take action against those responsible. Agence France-Presse cited opposition members, whom it didn’t name, as saying there was a mutiny among security services in the town, and forces loyal to Assad executed police officers who refused to open fire on protesters.

Refugees in Turkey

More than 300 Syrians have fled to Turkey in recent days to seek refuge from the violence in Jisr al-Shughour, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said today. Turkey’s state news agency, Anatolia, reported that many more are waiting to make the trip if unrest escalates.

“We will be on the right side of history when this comes to a vote,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. “Several Security Council members disingenuously used Libya as an excuse, as a ploy, to avoid the real issues we are facing in Syria.”

Their arguments “strained credulity, not to mention morality,” she said.

Rights Violations

The text “condemns the systematic violation of human rights, including the killings, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists by the Syrian authorities.”

The draft doesn’t contain, or threaten, UN sanctions.

Syria’s government says Islamists and foreign provocateurs are behind the uprising. Local reporters operate under restrictions and members of the foreign media attempting to report from Syria have been jailed or deported.

Syria also faces referral to the Security Council over a site destroyed in a 2007 Israeli raid that the U.S. says was a clandestine nuclear plant designed to build weapons.

European nations joined the U.S. today at the International Atomic Energy Agency in seeking to report Syrian non-compliance with nuclear-safeguard agreements, according to a two-page restricted copy of the resolution obtained by Bloomberg News. The IAEA’s 35-member board of governors is meeting in Vienna and may vote on the proposal tomorrow.

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