The New York Times, By Neil MacFarquhar
27 April 2011
Western nations failed to secure the simplest of Security Council measures: a press statement calling on Syria’s leaders to stop the violence against their own people.
Envoys for several wary Council members that had agreed to at least abstain in the vote against Libya, particularly Russia, spoke out against any international intervention on Wednesday, while Lebanon would have found it impossible to support criticism given the influence Syria holds over it. The required unanimity among the 15 members for a press statement was impossible.
“The current situation in Syria, despite the increase in tension, does not represent a threat to international peace and security,” said Alexander Pankin, the Russian deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. Intervening would be “an invitation to civil war,” he said. All council members addressed the body after it became clear that no consensus would emerge.
Russian leaders have been particularly scathing in recent days about events in Libya, accusing the countries taking part in military action against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces of greatly exceeding the mandate that the Security Council gave them. Russian officials thought the United Nations intervention in Ivory Coast that followed, also carried out in the name of protecting civilians, went too far as well.
Diplomats and other analysts noted important differences in the circumstances surrounding the antigovernment uprisings in Libya and Syria. First, the March decision to take military action against Libya was preceded by appeals for such a step from the Arab League. “Their voices can be important for the Council, at least in taking the first step,” said Joanna Weschler of the Security Council Report, a group that analyzes the Council’s actions.
The Arab League has been more generic on Syria, urging all states in the region to avoid answering protests with bullets.
In addition, Libya’s United Nations ambassador himself appealed for action in announcing his own defection. Finally, Libya is an important oil-producing state, but it is marginal in terms of the dynamics of the region.
Syria, on the other hand, is a former close ally of the Soviet Union and a linchpin for efforts to end the Arab-Israeli dispute. Also, member states do not want it to descend into the kind of bloody stalemate that has evolved in Libya. The stability of Syria, said the Brazilian ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, is “central to regional stability.”
China, which also abstained in the Libya vote, called for Syria to address the concerns of the demonstrators and, like many countries, supported an impartial investigation into the hundreds of deaths there. But it said that the threat to regional stability and the impact on the global economic recovery had to be considered.
Many states suggested that Syria had to be given more time to carry out the reforms promised by President Bashar al-Assad. Western states noted that Mr. Assad had repeatedly promised reforms after succeeding his father 11 years ago, while simultaneously jailing critics.
Various ambassadors said their efforts would now shift to other avenues. European Union members are threatening to impose their own sanctions within days, and a meeting of another United Nations body, the Human Rights Council, will convene in Geneva on Friday to discuss Syria, though the Arab League has reiterated its support for having Syria join the Council in May.
Syrian ambassadors were summoned in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid to be told that Mr. Assad must refrain from further violence. If not, senior European officials said, measures that include an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel restrictions are inevitable.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, accused the United States of being quick to try to force United Nations action against Syria, while fighting efforts to stop Israeli violence against Palestinians living under occupation.