Syria: A dark day in Turtle Bay
Benedict Moran is a producer for Al Jazeera English in New York and at the United Nations.
Today may have marked a turning point at Turtle Bay, the neighborhood in midtown New York where the UN Security Council is located.
Russia and China issued a third veto of a Security Council resolution on Syria, blocking a UK-, US-, French- and German-drafted resolution that threatened economic sanctions on the Assad government if it did not withdraw forces from population centers and cease the use of heavy weapons within ten days.
The vote marked the end of an intense period of diplomacy geared towards achieving Security Council unity.
The Russian Ambassador claimed the resolution, like others before it, could lay the groundwork for military action, despite repeated assurances from ambassadors, and the wording of this text limiting any future action to economic sanctions.
After the vote, the reaction by Western was scathing: Russia’s reasoning was called “paranoid if not disingenuous” by one frustrated ambassador… and “circular, tautological, and self-serving” by another.
But the UNSC has been effectively deadlocked on Syria since the uprising began.
It managed to approve a minimal monitoring mission after Kofi Annan brokered a temporary ceasefire in April.
After the ceasefire broke down and the level of violence was deemed excessively high for the unarmed UN monitors to safely operate in, many diplomats, including Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, argued that the mission — under its current configuration — had become obsolete.
Indeed, since mid-June monitors have been limited to making humanitarian-related visits to hospitals and schools, and are currently restricted to Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Homs, Rif Damascus and Damascus.
With the UN monitoring mission set to expire on June 20, Western ambassadors used the renewal of the mission as an opportunity to try and put new pressure on Assad.
But the third failure to broker meaningful Security Council action has led members to believe that council unity was unreachable, and indicated they should stop waiting for unity to achieve their aims.
“We will intensify our work with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and to deliver assistance to those in need,” said Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN. “The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year.”
“This is another dark day in Turtle Bay,” Rice said.
The Council is expected to agree to a bare-bones technical roll-over of the UN mission in Syria on Friday, but it may only give time for an orderly withdrawal of peacekeepers.