UNITED NATIONS - IFTIKHAR ALI/AGENCIES - With the US and its allies gearing up for a probable military strike against Syria as punishment for last week's chemical weapons attacks, a British-proposed resolution was stalled by Russia on Wednesday.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council failed to reach an agreement on the resolution that would authorise the use of military force against President Bashar Assad's regime. The draft resolution – if it were to be put to a vote – would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia and China, which have blocked past attempts to sanction Syria.
After the ambassadors met for a couple of hours at UN headquarters, the draft resolution was being sent back to their governments for consultations, according to a Western diplomat. The diplomat said Russia reiterated its objections to international intervention in the Syrian crisis.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said in London that the British draft resolution would authorise “all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.” Chapter 7 of the UN Charter allows the use of international armed force to back up UN decisions.
The US has not presented concrete proof, and UN inspectors have not yet endorsed the allegations. In Damascus, inspectors had finished their second visit to a suspected chemical weapons strike in the Mouadamiya suburb, according to press reports.
And, according to a motion published by the British government Wednesday that is set to be put to a parliamentary vote today (Thursday), Britain will not take military action against the Syrian regime before UN inspectors report back on evidence of chemical weapons attacks.
The Security Council should be immediately briefed as soon as the inspections are complete and then ‘every effort’ should be made to secure a resolution from the Council backing military action, the motion said. "Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place," it added.
Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned against military intervention in the Middle East country. "I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says," he told a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday.
"I must say that I do know that President (Barack) Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don't know. But certainly international law is very clear - the Security Council has to be brought in," he was quoted as saying in a transcript of his remarks released at UN Headquarters in New York.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for weapons inspectors to be given time to determine whether chemical weapons were used. Speaking at the Hague, Ban urged members of the UN Security Council to look for a diplomatic solution, saying: “Give peace a chance, give diplomacy a chance, stop fighting and start talking.”
But observers noted that his words are not being heeded as American, European and Middle East allies have already firmly pinned the blame on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. French President Francois Hollande said his country was "ready to punish" those behind the chemical attacks and that he would meet the leader of Syria's main opposition bloc on Thursday.
A senior US official said Washington has ruled out unilateral action and is conferring with allies on potential punitive strikes that could last for more than a day. "Any military action would not be unilateral," the official told reporters. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American military was already prepared to act if Obama gave the order – though White House aides said no final decision had been taken.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday also condemned alleged poison gas attacks, blaming the Syrian government and calling on the UN "Security Council to discharge its duty and take ‘decisive action’.
The largest Muslim states’ organization in a statement stressed the need to hold the Syrian government and its officials “legally and morally accountable”. OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said he "remains convinced of the need to urgently work out a political solution to extricate Syria from this bloody crisis."
But close Damascus ally Russia said Wednesday it was premature for the Council to act before a UN team inspecting the sites of the alleged attacks releases its findings. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the ministry as saying "a military solution will lead only to a further destabilisation of the situation in the country and the region".
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, the Assad regime's chief regional ally, also warned on Wednesday that "US intervention will be a disaster for the region”. “The region is like a gunpowder depot. (Its) future cannot be predicted" in case of a strike on Syria, he added.
Syria says it believes that Britain, France and the US have helped “terrorists” use chemical weapons in Syria, in order to justify foreign intervention and warned that the same groups would soon use them against Europe.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has already declared that Damascus would be able to defend itself. "We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal," he said on Tuesday. "The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves."