As Diplomats Gather at the UN, Russia Still a ‘Nyet’ on Syria Resolution

As you’ve probably read, diplomatic heavyweights are gathering at the United Nations today for a Security Council meeting on Syria. France’s foreign minister Alain Juppe, UK Foreign Minister William Hague, Hillary Clinton and others are meeting to discuss a new draft resolution on Syria. Noticeably absent is Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who is in Australia at the moment–about as far away from New York City as geographically possible.

The draft resolution contains a great deal of stock language on protecting civilians and human rights. No one disagrees with that. Rather, the big point of contention is the resolution’s call for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to hand over power to a deputy as the first step in a democratic transition.  The USA, France and the UK are strongly supportive. China will probably abstain. But will Russia cast it’s veto? So far, it would appear so.

The Australian Broadcasting Company landed a lengthy interview with Lavrov today in which he seems to cast some serious doubt on the viability of this regime change clause in the draft resolution.

So, my point is that the international community must speak one voice. If we want to end violence, irrespective of where it comes from – and that’s the language of the Arab League – then all those countries on whose soil various opposition groups are present, they must lean on those groups, we all must lean on the Syrian government and tell them that you must sit down and stop this. You must agree how your country is going to be run.

We would not pre-judge the outcome, whether this would involve the president of Syria [leaving], or whether there would be some other solution, we went through this in Libya when the African Union – the organisation of 50-some countries, to which Libya belongs – introduced a plan under which the fate of Gaddafi would’ve been decided at the end of the negotiating process as part of the overall package.

It was rejected because some countries outside the African Union said no, no, no, Gaddafi must go before anything else happens, and then we had what we did. The African Union was humiliated, because to throw away an initiative which was aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis just because somebody had some very personal animosities was a mistake, and if we’re going to repeat this in Syria, well, we cannot help it if some people insist on doing something bad.

But we would not be party to it and we would not let the Security Council endorse something like this.

So there you have it. Of course, these positions can change, but as of today it still looks like Russia would veto a resolution calling for Assad to step aside. Be sure to watch the Security Council webcast starting at 3 pm EST today.  Pay special attention to Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN Ambassador to see if Moscow is changing its tune at all.

UPDATE: Check out this post for a deeper analysis of why the Libya intervention so colors everything having to do with Syria at the Security Council.