For nearly a year, Syria's government has sustained a violent crackdown against opposition protesters. The international community has struggled to agree on a unified response, and on Saturday, the latest effort to bring pressure on Syria's leaders fell apart.
Russia and China blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian government for attacks against civilians. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was "disgusted" by the double veto.
"The international community must protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality," she said Saturday. "But a couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant."
Chance To Back Arab League Lost
It was a missed opportunity, Rice tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin.
"It was an Arab-sponsored text, and what made it important was that it was the Arab League, for the first time, coming to the U.N., asking the Security Council to back their initiative," she says.
The purpose of the resolution was to politically back the Arab initiative, Rice says, which called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to delegate responsibility to his vice president for negotiating a democratic transition. It was a significant resolution, she says, but also one that had been carefully adjusted to meet the concerns of many member states – including Russia and China.
"What Moscow came back with at the 11th hour were really amendments designed to be impossible for the rest of the council to take," Rice says.
The vote came amid reports that more than 200 people were killed in the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday. Rice says that made Russia and China's veto that much more frustrating.
"First of all, we all felt that it was outrageous in any instance for Russia and China to veto a resolution that was really a political expression of support for the Arab League initiative and for the people of Syria and a condemnation of violence," she says. "But it was even more outrageous that they would do so at a time when Assad was stepping up the killing in such a horrific way."
Now that the vote is over, the international community's options are looking slim.
"What it means," Rice says, "is that many more Syrians, innocent Syrians, are going to be killed by their government."
The Arab League will have to regroup, she says.
"They will have our support and assistance and that of most of the international community to end the violence and allow the people of Syria to have the future of peace and freedom that they deserve," she says.
It's too early to predict much else, she says, including military pressure. Rice says the U.S. will use both diplomatic and economic pressure to support the Syrian people.
"We'll have to see if Russia and China, when they feel the full weight of the outrage of response to their actions in the region and in Syria, change course," she says. "And if they don't, we will certainly look at every means at our disposal to increase pressure on Assad. His days are numbered. There's no question that this regime cannot endure. The only question is how many people will die before it ends."
Russian officials are traveling to Damascus this week to talk with Assad. Moscow has a great deal of influence in Syria, Rice says.
"Unfortunately, rather than pressure the regime, thus far they have chosen to coddle and protect it," she says.
Meanwhile the Arab League has to figure out what to do about Syria next.
"They're not giving up, we're not giving up," Rice says. "We will fight to support the people of Syria until their legitimate democratic aspirations are realized."
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