REPORTING FROM BEIRUT--Russia and China on Saturday blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan that may have hastened the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The two veto-wielding nations acted in New York after President Obama issued an impassioned statement urging the United Nations to act to stop the Syrian "killing machine."
The U.N. decision comes after what the Syrian opposition calls the bloodiest 24-hour period during the 10-month rebellion, with more than 200 civilians reported killed by government shelling of the battlefield city of Homs. The government denied that its forces had shelled the city and called the reports a fabrication.
Russia and China expressed concerns that the Security Council measure was a one-sided plan that would have condemned violence by the government but not by armed rebels seeking to oust Assad. Both expressed reservations that the blueprint could lead to international intervention against Assad.
It was the second time, following a similar veto in October, that Russia and China have used their votes to block a U.N. resolution condemning the Assad regime.
Supporting the resolution were the Arab League and Western members, including the United States.
Susan Rice, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, said the United States was "disgusted" at the "shameful" vote that shielded a "craven tyrant."
"This is a sad day for the Security Council," Rice declared.
Syria objected to the resolution as a formula for international intervention.
The joint veto came despite days of behind-the-scenes negotiations to craft a compromise acceptable to Moscow. Russia feared a repeat of last year’s Libya scenario, in which a Security Council vote designed to protect Libyan civilians resulted in a Western-led bombing campaign that led to the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
Observers say Russia and China feared that the resolution could have led to the rise of another pro-Western regime in Syria, which is a close ally of Russia and Iran.
In response to Russia’s concerns, negotiators reportedly agreed to omit a demand that Assad hand over power to his deputy as part of a transition to democracy. Western and Arab nations also reportedly agreed to remove language that would have called for an arms embargo and economic sanctions against Syria. In addition, negotiators were said to have explicitly ruled out any kind of foreign intervention in Syria.
But, in the end, the concessions weren’t enough to persuade Russia and China to go along with the plan.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Portuguese representative Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, left, and South African representative Baso Sangqu, right, glance at Russian representative Vitaly Churkin, center, as they vote in support of a draft resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press