Thursday, May 31, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Joe Lauria at the United Nations and Nour Malas in Beirut
Arguing that diplomatic efforts to end Syria's civil bloodshed have hit a wall, the U.S. hinted Wednesday that military action is the most likely remaining scenario and challenged Russia to help bring about peace.
"I think we may be beginning to see the wheels coming off of this bus," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after a Security Council meeting, joining other U.N. officials in raising warnings of a possible Syrian civil war.
Her comments marked the strongest U.S. suggestion yet that the Syrian situation could lead to outside military intervention. It came after U.N. observers in the country reported finding the corpses of 13 people they say appeared to have been tied up and shot at close range -- a killing that comes amid international outcry to an apparent execution last week of dozens of civilians in Syria.
At Wednesday's council meeting, the U.S. and its allies discussed what would be the first global sanctions in Syria, Ms. Rice said. But the initiative, as before, met resistance from Russia, the top ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In pointed statements apparently aimed at Damascus and Moscow, Ms. Rice said the world faced three possible outcomes in Syria. Damascus could implement the U.N.-brokered peace deal it agreed to last month, but that probability is fading, she said. The second option, she said, is for the Security Council to "assume its responsibilities" and place additional pressure, including sanctions, on Damascus.
Failing that, she said, the other alternative "is indeed the worst case -- which seems unfortunately at the present to be the most probable," Ms. Rice said, implying military action without U.N. authorization.
There is a precedent for such action. NATO acted outside the Security Council in 1999 in taking military action in Kosovo when Russia opposed the U.N. authorization of force.
Urging Security Council penalties on Syria, she sketched out an alternative situation in which violence escalates, spreads to other countries in the region and finally breaks into a sectarian proxy war with arms flowing in from all sides. In that case, she said, Security Council members would be left to consider taking action outside the U.N., a scenario she said the U.S. and allies have sought to avoid.
It wasn't clear from Ms. Rice's comments what sorts of actions could be on the table, and diplomats at the U.N. debated the meaning of her remarks. The U.S. has taken pains to say that it views military action or arming Syria's disparate opposition as the last option.
The latest international push comes after 108 people were killed Friday in a rural area, Houla. Fewer that 20 were killed by shelling, while most, including many women and children, were shot at close range in what U.N. officials have described as grisly executions.
Russia on Sunday signed off on a Security Council statement condemning the massacre and blaming the government for its use of heavy arms, the furthest Moscow has gone at the U.N. to condemn Damascus. But Russian diplomats have held the line against economic sanctions. On Wednesday, Moscow said any additional Security Council measures would be "premature."
Asked about Ms. Rice's warning, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin refused to discuss it in detail, dismissing it as a "catastrophic scenario."
"The prospect of dramatic developments in this very fragile region are there," he said. "This is a reason why we have to be careful about making any gestures or hints about any action outside of the Security Council."
The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria said the 13 bodies, discovered Tuesday night in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, had their hands tied behind their backs. Some appear to have been shot in the head from short range, the mission's chief, Gen. Robert Mood, said in a statement.
Turkey's foreign ministry said it asked Syria to withdraw all diplomatic personnel from the country within 72 hours, joining a string of Western nations who announced a day earlier they were kicking out Syrian envoys.
In Washington, the U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on a Syrian bank it said has allowed the Syrian regime to circumvent sanctions against it by the U.S., EU, and Arab League. The sanctions on Syria International Islamic Bank, which the Treasury Department said was acting on behalf of or providing services to two other sanctioned Syrian banks, "will add to the economic pressure on the Assad regime by closing off a key evasion route."
Ayla Albayrak, Jay Solomon and Gregory L. White contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires