Bitterness over Libya taints UN council's Syria debate

AFP , Sunday 8 Jan 2012

The UN Security Council this week returns to the battle over Syria's deadly crackdown on protests -- but opponents of UN action, led by Russia, keep trying to switch the debate to Libya

In this file photo, a NATO bombing blitz rocked Tripoli as rebels in besieged Misrata claimed to be pushing back the Libyan strongman’s forces. (Photo: Reuters)

Western nations have been infuriated and frustrated by demands by Russia and others for an inquiry into the NATO airstrikes in Libya which they use as a reason to oppose UN action in Syria. US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, calls it a "bogus" move, hiding other motives.

Diplomats predicted that Russia and its allies would again raise Libya when top UN officials on Tuesday brief the 15 member Security Council on latest events in Syria and Arab League efforts to end bloodshed.

Ten months into President Bashar al-Assad's assault on opponents, the council has still not passed a resolution on the violence, which the UN estimates has left more than 5,000 dead. Russia and China vetoed one European text in October -- calling it a first step toward "regime change" -- and negotiations on a rival Russian text are deadlocked.

Rice and her Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin are locked in a tense battle over Syria and whether NATO attacks in Libya overstepped UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 passed in February and March last year.
"In the brave new world, no-fly zone means free wheeling bombing of the targets you choose to bomb," said Churkin.

Rice, a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet, has sternly rejected the accusations against NATO. In an interview with AFP she gave details of the closed-door negotiations that led to the Libya resolutions.

France and Britain led initially demands for the no-fly zone. The United States launched into the diplomatic campaign in the final 48 hours after initially doubting "the wisdom and the efficacy of a no fly zone by itself", said Rice.

Obama did not want international jets "flying around up above watching while people got killed in Benghazi or elsewhere," said the US ambassador.
Rice said she argued that what she called a "naked no fly zone" would not protect those at risk. "We had to have the clear cut authority to protect civilians by engaging in air strikes against Gaddafi targets and convoys and other regime elements that were directly threatening citizens and civilians."

The US envoy said she made the case "very precisely, very explicitly and in detail. Which is why I have objected so strenuously to statements by some council members that they did not know what they were buying into or that what NATO ultimately did exceeded the mandate."

Raising Libya, she said, "is a bogus excuse by some member states who have other interests and agendas in Syria" rather than the council's responsibility to protect civilians.

India and South Africa, which abstained on the European text on Syria, appear to be maintaining their opposition and using the Libya case.

"Susan Rice very correctly said 'yes military operations would have to be undertaken,'" said India's UN envoy Hardeep Singh Puri. But the resolution's arms embargo had been infringed and the council had not followed up its own calls for a ceasefire, he charged.

"Clearly some on the council wanted the military operation to complete its course and result in the removal of the people there," Puri told AFP.

Brazil has just left the council. With India and South Africa it has argued for greater political efforts in Syria. Brazil's UN envoy, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti indicated that the so-called IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa) felt under pressure from the West, on one side, and Russia and China.

"A situation has been created where the council was very polarized, both sides tried to conquer IBSA support," Viotti said in an interview with Brazil's O Globo television this week.

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