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China And Russia Veto U.N. Resolution Threatening Sanctions On Syria

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China and Russia this morning vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that could permit sanctions against Syria unless the government of President Bashar Assad stops using weapons against civilians. This is the third time China and Russia have rebuffed measures pushed by the United States and its allies to try to bring a halt to Syria's violent civil conflict.

Today's move wasn't a surprise — The Associated Press says Russia, which supports Syrian president Assad, accused Western allies of writing the resolution to show support for the rebels.

NPR's Jackie Northam says peace envoy and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had asked that the vote be delayed by a day to work toward an agreement; today, it didn't materialize.

China did strongly condemn yesterday's bombing in Damascus that killed the Syrian defense minister and two key aides to Assad, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

With the resolution rejected, the fate of the U.N.'s unarmed observer mission in Syria is in doubt. The mission's mandate expires tomorrow, and it's not clear whether it will be extended. Even if their stay is lengthened, it's not clear how much the monitors can do. They've mostly remained in quarters because the fighting has grown much worse.

Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. No Guarantee, But Resolution Would Have Offered Some Hope, Ambassador Rice Says:

"There was no guarantee that the resolution Russia and China vetoed would have changed the dynamic" in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel this afternoon. "But it was the only hope that action by the [Security] Council would change the dynamic."

Rice said the resolution "would have signaled the readiness of the Security Council to impose sanctions on the [Syrian] government 10 days from now" if the Assad regime continues to use heavy weapons on its people and refuse to abide by the peace plan crafted by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

With the veto, Rice added, the U.N. observer mission in Syria has been "dealt a death knell. ... They can't monitor the implementation of a plan that's not been adhered to by the government."

China and Russia, Rice said, "have consigned the Syrian people" to more violence and have "increased the risk of the conflict spilling over into the region." The U.S., she said, will continue to "ratchet up even further" the political and economic pressure on the Assad regime. The U.S. will also, she said, continue to support the peaceful opposition in Syria and to give the armed opposition "non-lethal support."

Much more from her conversation with Robert will be on All Things Considered later today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Condemns Decision By Russia And China:

"It's pitiful and deeply regretful" that Russia and China blocked the resolution, Ambassador Susan Rice said earlier today. She's tentatively set to talk with All Things Considered this afternoon. We'll update with news from that conversation.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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