Russia, China draw Arab, Turkish ire over Syria

February 5, 2012 - 5:25 AM
Germany Security Conference

Tawakkul Karman, of Yemen, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, gestures during her speech at the Security Conference on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012 in Munich, southern Germany. The Yemeni activist says Russia and China bear moral responsibility for killings in Syria and is urging governments to expel Syrian ambassadors. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

MUNICH (AP) — The Russian and Chinese veto of a U.N. resolution aimed at ending Syria's bloodshed drew stinging criticism from Arab and Turkish officials on Sunday, and Tunisia's prime minister said that cutting ties with the Syrian regime is the "least that we can do."

Moscow and Beijing used their veto in the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, amid international outrage over a devastating bombardment of the city of Homs by President Bashar Assad's forces.

Their vote came shortly after Tunisia, the country whose uprising launched the past year's upheaval in the Arab world, decided to expel Syria's ambassador.

At a gathering of security officials in Germany, Qatar's minister for international cooperation said Arab nations had addressed Russia's fears.

"We say there will not be a military intervention, there will not be removal of the regime, and the economic embargo (is) optional to the Arab states," Khaled al-Attiyah said at the Munich Security Conference.

"We thought at this stage that we have satisfied their ego on this resolution," he added. "Unfortunately yesterday was a sad day; this is exactly what we were fearing ... a very bad signal to Assad that there (is a) license to kill."

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said that "we have to expel the Syrian ambassadors from Arab countries and other countries."

"The very least that we can do is to cut our relations to the Syrian regime," Jebali said.

He criticized the "excessive use of the veto" in the U.N. Security Council. "This is a right that was misused, and undoubtedly the international community has to reconsider this mechanism of decision taking."

Ahead of the vote on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the conference that Russia thought the resolution made too few demands of the groups opposing the Syrian regime.

He also said Russia believed the Security Council should "not engage in domestic affairs of member states."

But Jebali asked pointedly on Sunday: "If a regime is killing its people, are we allowed to talk about sovereignty as a reason or a justification? Is sovereignty a justification for a regime to do whatever it will?"

Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Amr, signaled frustration that the U.N. resolution was vetoed following "one of the few instances when the Arab League really came forward and put forward a full plan for a settlement."

"Now this human tragedy has to stop," Amr said, adding that Arab League foreign ministers will meet in Cairo next Saturday.

"We will evaluate the situation after what happened in the Security Council and hopefully ... we will be successful to achieve a peaceful solution," Amr said.

The foreign minister of Turkey, an increasingly influential player in the Middle East, said that "Russia and China did not vote based on the existing realities, but more reflexive attitude against (the) West."

"The veto power should not be used from this perspective," Ahmet Davutoglu said. In vetoing a "very soft resolution - which type of message are we giving to the Syrian people or in the region?," he asked.

Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, one of the winners of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, said of Russia and China that "those two countries bear the moral and human responsibility for these massacres."

"I urge you in the name of the peaceful rebels to expel Syrian ambassadors from your countries and I urge you to call back your ambassadors in Damascus," Karman said to conference delegates.

"That is the minimum you can do to punish this regime, and I also urge you to take the necessary measures to protect the Syrian people."

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David Rising contributed to this report.