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UN Vote On Syria Fails


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene, in for Scott Simon. It's been nearly a year since anti-government protests began in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad has carried out a violent crackdown. We've heard tough statements, warnings from capitals around the world. And today, it appeared the U.N. Security Council was poised to issue a resolution condemning the crackdown.

In the last hour, the vote failed. They were attempting to pass a draft that would take on Assad's government. There was negotiating up to the final moments before the vote.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Will those in favor of the draft resolution contained in document A-stroke-2012-stroke-77 please raise their hand.

GREENE: Most of the hands in the room went up, but that was not enough.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The draft resolution has not been adopted, owing to the negative vote of two members of the Security Council.

GREENE: Those vetoes from the two members - Russia and China - held up the vote. Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria is rising after what activists and opposition leaders are calling a massive offensive by pro-government troops in the city of Homs. Activists say at least 250 people have been killed in what could be the single-most violent day since the country's anti-government uprisings began.

And we're going to be covering this from two places. We're joined live in our Washington studios by Michele Kelemen, who covers the State Department for NPR. Michele, how are you?


GREENE: And also, on the line, NPR foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers is with us from Beirut, where she has been monitoring the situation in Syria. Kelly, hello.


GREENE: We'll get to you in a moment, Kelly. Michele, let's just start with the news from New York. This seemed like a dramatic moment - this flurry of negotiations leading up to this vote. Give us the context. What was this resolution supposed to do, and what happened?

KELEMEN: Well, it was a huge setback for the U.S., Europe and the Arab League. They're been really pushing hard, trying to convince the Russians to go along with it and not to use its veto power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Munich at a security conference, and she met with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, today. And her aides say they had vigorous talks about this. We saw in the room at the Security Council, at the last minute, Ambassador Susan Rice meeting with her Chinese counterpart in what looked to be a pretty heated discussion.

But in the end, both of those countries vetoed it. And that's the second time they've done this. China and Russia vetoed another resolution last year. France called it a sad day for the Security Council, a sad day for Syria. And Ambassador Rice said she was disgusted, and said it was a shameful vote and that the Security Council is held hostage by these two. So very strong words.

GREENE: Russia seemed, even in the final hours, like they were open to negotiating. Sergei Lavrov had said this is not a hopeless effort to come up with this resolution. He was talking about just changing the language, making sure that some of the anti-government groups were blamed for some of the violence. Did the Russians just not get enough of what they were asking for?

KELEMEN: Well, they came in with even more last-minute changes, which Ambassador Rice called unacceptable. The U.S., Europe - the Europeans and Morocco, and the other members of the Security Council that were supporting this resolution did make some changes already. They had stripped out a clause that explicitly called on President Bashar al-Assad to delegate power to a deputy, who would then form a unity government.

But the resolution still sort of - the draft that they were voting on today, that they rejected today, still would have endorsed the Arab League plan, which called for that. So the Russians have always said that they don't want the Security Council to be in the business of regime change. They weren't convinced, obviously, by the argument that this isn't regime change; this is a delegation of power; this is something the Arab League is proposing.

And the other thing is what you mentioned - is that they, the Russians, didn't like the idea that the resolution came down so hard on Assad and not on the armed groups that are fighting Assad's regime.

GREENE: Well, Michele, stay with us, if you can. I want to turn to you in Beirut, Kelly McEvers. This vote, as we said, comes hours after the Syrian military cracked down on the city of Homs. Give us the latest on what sounds like some very bloody attacks.

MCEVERS: Well, as we know, Homs is a real flashpoint for this anti-government uprising. It's the city that seen probably the most fierce protests, and sort of armed resistance to the government. It was yesterday, after the kind of regular Friday protest, the protesters were rolling up their banners and, you know, heading home when, they say, that the government troops began just shelling primarily the neighborhood of Haldia, which again, is one of these fierce anti-government neighborhoods. It was basically under the control of the anti-government movement.

They said the shelling lasted through the night. People described it as hellish - mortar round after mortar round after mortar round crashing down on houses, on neighborhoods, and killing what we now believe are in the hundreds of civilians. It's impossible for journalists to get into Homs - for foreign journalists to get into Homs, so we can't independently verify this. But we've had several different sources - we've spoken to witnesses today; we've spoken to people who went to this neighborhood afterwards - and it sounds like utter carnage.

GREENE: That has been one of the challenges, actually getting into Syria to do the reporting. Well, Kelly, how will this vote, this resolution failing, play on the ground? I know there were a lot of questions about whether the anti-government protesters in Syria might feel abandoned by the international community if there was an actual vote and it failed.

MCEVERS: There's a definite sense of abandon among the activists that we've talked to today; just a sense that - you know, that the world was with other protest movements during the Arab uprisings, and where is the world now? They feel like this veto by Russia and China is just giving the government, giving the Syrian regime license to go on killing its own people.

GREENE: Michele Kelemen, let me ask you where we go from here at the U.N. I mean, Russia has had tough words about Assad. I mean, they seem willing to do something, but what comes next? Is there another option? Is there another resolution?

KELEMEN: Well, I don't think there'll be another resolution anytime soon. I mean, Lavrov is planning to go to Damascus on Tuesday, so we might see something there. But I think, as you've heard from Kelly, that the opposition doesn't look kindly upon the Russians right now. So it's going to be hard to see them as any sort of fair mediator in this. The Arab League still has their proposals. Morocco's ambassador in the U.N. Security Council today, when he expressed disappointment and regret that this resolution failed, he said, well, there - our political roadmap still exists. It wasn't endorsed by the U.N. Security Council today - as they had hoped - but it's still out there.

GREENE: And the possibility of military action? I mean, we saw the U.N. try to take on Libya. There was a no-fly zone, and then we got to a point where NATO was actually taking, you know, taking military action in Libya. Is that even a remote possibility in Syria?

KELEMEN: Diplomats have gone out of their way to say this resolution had nothing to do with military intervention. It was something that the Russians brought up. They always said that that Russian argument - the Russians were just bringing up straw men in the debate. There wasn't any talk of that; there wasn't any talk that the Arab - neither the Arab League nor the Syrian opposition had been requesting that. We'll have to see how things change - if the situation really deteriorates, as many fear it could.

GREENE: All right. We'll be following this story very closely. NPR's Michele Kelemen, with us in our studios in Washington. Thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

GREENE: And NPR's Kelly McEvers, joining us from Beirut. Thanks, Kelly.

MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.