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On Syria, Double Veto After Russian Amendments Leaked, Rejected

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 4 -- As the draft resolution on Syria came to a head in the UN Security Council, Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called a closed door meeting Saturday morning on one page of amendments (which Inner City Press obtained and exclusively published, here.)

  The consultations were limited to the Number One ambassador of which of the Council's 15 members. They came out, and after a half hour lull, voted on the draft resolution without amendments. Russia vetoed, as did China.

  US Ambassador Susan Rice called it "disgusting" and UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant was "appall[ed]."

  Afterward, Inner City Press asked first Moroccan Ambassador Loulichki, then Rice, Lyall Grant, Germany's Peter Wittig and finally Churkin himself about the rejected amendments.

  Loulichki of Morocco, stated sponsor of the draft resolution, would not answer which of the amendments had been the deal break, telling Inner City Press to ask Vitaly Churkin. As he said this, Ambassador Rice to the side of the stakeout indicated that unlike Loulichki, she would answer this.

  And Rice did, referring back to Inner City Press' question and saying

"this is to answer your question, Matt: What was unacceptable, first and foremost, was the amendments that would have rewritten the Arab League plans, both Arab League plans-the one of November 2nd, which both parties have agreed to and committed to but the Syrian government hasn't implemented but which indeed the Russian Federation has supported.... They were also not offered during the course of the week when we were engaged in meaningful efforts at negotiations but rather at the 11th hour with a request that the vote be delayed until some indefinite point next week." [Video here, Min 18]

  Russia's proposed amendment to Operative Paragraph (OP) 7 was to "eplace in lines 5-6 'in accordance with' by 'taking into account.'"

  UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, as transcribed by the UK Mission to the UN, said

"one of the amendments put forward by Russia this morning was to suggest watering down the demand that had been accepted by Assad three months ago to withdraw military forces from the cities on the very day when they [the Syrian regime] were using tanks and artillery to kill their people, I think was what persuaded most people that we could not wait any longer and we would have to go to a vote and that countries would have to stand and up and be counted."

The problem is, the Russian amendment reads as follows:

Para 4 (c). Add at the end of subpara: “…in conjunction with the end of attacks by armed groups against state institutions and quarter of cities and towns”

  At the stakeout, on UNTV, Inner City Press read out loud this language to Lyall Grant to get his reaction. Video here, Minute 27. But in the UK Mission transcript, the question is made vague:

"Q: What was specifically unacceptable about that Russian amendment?"

  Perhaps there is some protocol of changing the questions that are asked. Or, in fairness, of only transcribing the answers, while approximating the question. It made a difference in this case; a subsequent speaker hearkened back to the question that was asked of Lyall Grant, but the UK put out a transcript without the question in it. The UK transcript has Lyall Grant answer the untranscribed question:

"The suggestion was to change the sequence. That somehow the armed groups would have to withdraw first, and then the regime forces."

   Inner City Press asked, not softly, doesn't "in conjunction" mean at the same time? But that's not in the UK transcript.

Loulichki & Arab League, Russian amendments here (c) MRLee

  When Vitaly Churkin came to the stakeout, he zeroed in on this, citing Inner City Press' question -- left untranscribed by the UK Mission -- and saying that Lyall Grant misquoted his amendment. Churkin said, video here from Minute 39:30:

"where we did say that the troops must pull out of the cities in conjunction, as Matthew correctly quoted from our amendment, with a pullout of the armed groups who were trying to take control of various cities and quarters in various cities. For some reason ambassador Lyall Grant chose to tell you there was a suggestion that they should be pulling first. I have no idea where he took that from. This is the problem we face, unfortunately, in the Council. Some colleagues dealing with the media choose to present a rather bizarre interpretation of proposals made by the Russian Federation."

  Then again, Churkin also said he was puzzled at Inner City Press' read-out of his 11 bis, "optional" amendment, “Expressing support for the broad trend of political transition to democratic, plural political systems in the Middle East."

  Some saw that as a swipe at some of the resolution's sponsors, perhaps the same ones of whom Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, in the chamber, accused of not allowing women to attend soccer game. (One online pundit replied, "That would be Iran." But there are others, including US allies.)

  French Ambassador Gerard Araud did not take any questions about the amendments, but said on his own that he had been willing to show flexibility and insert the word "extremist groups" for "armed groups" as those to be dissociated with. Inner City Press was ready to ask further, but it did not happen.

  But Inner City Press asked German Ambassador Wittig about what Araud had said, about flexibility. Wittig replied that "we would have been lenient on one or two things." Which ones?

  A cynic -- or analyst -- might describe Saturday's proceedings as theater, with some countries try to show their home audience how hard they are pushing, despite knowing the resolution would be vetoed and that Russia and China cannot really be made to feel ashamed about it.

  Click here for Russia's "Philosophy of the Veto," as Churkin expounded to Inner City Press last week, and here for what Li Baodong told Inner City Press on February 1 about language China would and would not accept -- seemingly contrary to UK Ambassador Lyall Grant's comment that China "did not express any particular concerns about the text over several days of negotiations."

  As to the 11th hour stridency of the sponsors, one real cynical said, "Once you've sold out 80%, why not go to 85% to avoid the veto?"

   As many asked, what next? Pushing for the Saturday afternoon vote and getting the veto, it is hard to see what the sponsors of the resolution do next. We'll be here - watch this site.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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