BEIRUT -- Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a draft United Nations resolution that could have led to sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, faced with a 16-month uprising that has cost thousands of lives.
It was the third time that the two nations, both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, had rejected council action against Syria’s leadership. The vote was 11 to 2.
The United States and its allies backing Assad’s ouster have pushed for a U.N. resolution that would impose further sanctions if Assad’s government continues to violate the terms of a U.N.-brokered peace plan, widely ignored by both sides in the conflict. The plan calls for a truce and a withdrawal of forces from urban areas, among other requirements.
China has been following the lead of Russia, which has long expressed fears that any U.N. move could be used as a legal justification for armed foreign intervention in Syria. Though Western powers have been leery of intervening in Syria, the sanctions also would have been hitched to a section of the U.N. charter that allows for the use of force.
Russian diplomats cite last year’s precedent of Libya, where a U.N. resolution was cited as justification for a Western-led bombing attack that helped oust Moammar Kadafi.
"To adopt the resolution would be ... direct support for the revolutionary movement," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian media on Wednesday. "To pressure just one side means drawing [Syria] into a civil war and interference in the internal affairs of the state."
The Syria vote was originally scheduled for Wednesday and postponed in the hope of reaching some agreement, apparently in vain.
Western officials seeking Assad’s departure immediately condemned the move by Russia and China.
For months, international diplomacy on Syria has followed a largely unchanging script: Violence on the ground has led to calls from the West and its Arab allies for U.N. action, only to end in Russian-Chinese vetoes in the Security Council.
Still unclear was the fate of the 300-member U.N. unarmed observer mission in Syria. Russia wants to extend the life of the mission, which was deployed under a mandate that expires Friday. Some Western officials have questioned the utility of the observers, who have been largely confined to their hotels for the last month because of dangers faced on the ground in Syria.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell. Emily Alpert in Los Angeles contributed.
Photo: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin speak before a United Nations Security Council vote on Syria on Thursday at the United Nations in New York. Credit: Don Emmert / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.