Last updated: 12 March, 2012

West steps up pleas to Russia and China over Syria

Western nations on Monday stepped up pleas to Russia and China to end their blockage on UN Security Council action over the Syrian government’s deadly assault on protest cities.

But Russia showed little sign of that it would change it stance, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slamming “risky recipes” which he said risked increasing conflict in the Middle East.

Syria dominated a UN Security Council ministerial meeting on the Arab uprisings, which came a day after UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus, where he met President Bashar al-Assad.

“I add my voice to that of Mr Annan in urging President Assad to act swiftly, within the next few days, in response to the proposals put forward” by the envoy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting.

“I appeal to the Security Council to unite strongly behind ending the violence and supporting Mr. Annan’s mission to help Syria pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe,” he added.

Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent Security Council members to veto resolutions on Syria, saying they were unbalanced and only sought regime change.

The other permanent members — the United States, Britain and France — stepped up their condemnation of Assad, but also urged Russia and China to agree a resolution.

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe appealed directly to Russia and China, while also calling on the council to call for an International Criminal Court investigation into the Syria crackdown, where the UN says more than 7,500 people have died in the past year.

“After months of blocking, I appeal to China and Russia to hear the voices of the Arabs and the world conscience and join us,” Juppe said.

“We believe that now is the time for all nations, even those who have previously blocked our efforts, to stand behind the humanitarian and political approach spelled out by the Arab League,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the council.

“The international community should say with one voice — without hesitation or caveat — that the killing of innocent Syrians must stop and a political transition must begin,” Clinton said.

“The situation in Syria casts a long shadow over this debate,” declared Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, whose country organized the debate as president of the Security Council for March.

“In the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the world, this council has so far failed in its responsibilities towards the Syrian people.”

But Lavrov maintained his argument against “unilateral” UN action, and repeated Russia’s condemnation of NATO’s airstrikes in Libya to justify its opposition to the West’s campaign on Syria.

Change in the Arab world “must not be achieved by misleading the international community or manipulating the Security Council,” Lavrov said.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that the Syrian authorities bear a huge share of responsibility for the situation,” Lavrov said, but he added that the government was now fighting armed groups, not just unarmed protesters.

Lavrov condemned “making hasty demands for regime change, imposing unilateral sanctions designed to trigger economic difficulties and social tensions in countries and inducing the opposition to continue its confrontation with authorities instead of promoting dialogue.”

All were, he added, “risky recipes of geopolitical engineering which can only result in a spread of the conflict.”