Russia and China vetoed an Arab League plan that would have attempted to stop violence in Syria by having President Bashar al-Assad hand over power to his vice president. The vetoes came February 4, 2012, at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The vetoes prompted angry responses from top American officials who see them as little short of condoning more violence in Syria.
Protests against al-Assad's oppressive regime began during the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Unlike protests in Egypt and Libya, which led to the ouster of dictatorial leaders, the Syrian protests have only further entrenched Al-Assad.
Al-Assad, who took the presidency upon the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, has periodically unleashed Syrian troops to put down protests. The civilian death toll in Syria since the protests began is estimated at 6,000. Syrian troops killed at least another 200 people in a clash at Homs just a day before the security council vote.
Arab League Plan
The Arab League revealed its plan for peace in Syria in late January 2012. Elements of the plan include:
- Al-Assad step down and hand power to his vice president.
- Syria form a "unity government."
- The government allow democratic parliamentary elections within two months.
The Arab League includes 22 nations in North Africa and the Middle East. It submitted the peace plan after a period of ineffectual monitoring of the violence in Syria.
The Security Council only required one dissenting vote to veto the plan. Russian diplomats wanted alterations to the plan to require more of protesters; however the 13 other members of the Security Council called for a vote regardless in the face of escalating Syrian violence.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that the double veto "disgusted" the United States. She said that, while the people of Syria need the type of help that a globalized, international entity like the U.N. can provide, "a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant."
Rice told National Public Radio that the veto was "outrageous" since it came amid reports of the Homs violence, and since the U.N. resolution was "really a political expression of support for the Arab League initiative and for the people of Syria and a condemnation of violence."
Rice said the veto essentially means that more "innocent Syrians . . . are going to be killed by their government."
Traveling in Europe as the Security Council voted, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the veto a "travesty." She said, "Those countries that refuse to support the Arab League plan bear full responsibly for protecting the brutal regime in Damascus."
Saying that the veto had "neutered" the Security Council on the Arab League plan, Clinton said the U.S. will still press ahead with diplomacy to stop the violence, and it will urge more international sanctions against Syria. The United States already has sanctions levied against al-Assad's regime.
At a press conference February 6, White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed disappointment in the veto, but he added that there "are telltale signs that Assad's future is very limited at best." He cited limited financial and military resources as a result of sanctions, and the fact that protesters have taken control of some Syrian regions.
President Barack Obama had not spoken publicly about the veto, but his own feelings over the vote are not hard to imagine. In a statement before the Security Council vote, Obama said that entity had the opportunity to stop al-Assad's "killing machine."
Reiterating that al-Assad had lost legitimacy as Syrian leader, Obama said, "Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately."