The United States declared on Thursday that it has given up trying to work with the UN Security Council on Syria, accusing Russia of holding the council hostage and allowing Moscow's allies in Syria to deploy poison gas against innocent children.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power's remarks left no doubt that Washington would not seek UN approval for a military strike on Syria in response to an August 21 chemical attack near Damascus. She said a draft resolution Britain submitted to the five permanent council members last week calling for a response to that attack was effectively dead.
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"I was present in the meeting where the UK laid down the resolution, and everything in that meeting, in word and in body language, suggests that that resolution has no prospect of being adopted, by Russia in particular," Power told reporters.
"Our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after 2-1/2 years of efforts on Geneva (peace talks), the humanitarian situation is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council," she said.
"In the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities, including as a party to the chemical weapons convention," Power said.
After Britain submitted the draft resolution to fellow Security Council veto powers China, France, Russia and the United States, its parliament voted against British participation in planned US military strikes to punish Syria's government for the chemical attack.
Washington, which is seeking US congressional approval for military action, blames the latest poison gas attack on forces loyal to Assad. The United States says that sarin gas attack killed over 1,400 people, many of them children.
Power said the 15-nation council failed to live up to its role as the guardian of international peace and security.
"Unfortunately for the past 2-1/2 years, the system devised in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it is supposed to," Power said. "It did not protect peace and security for the hundreds of Syrian children who were gassed to death on August 21."
"The system has protected the prerogatives of Russia, the patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world's largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century while chemical weapons inspectors sent by the United Nations were just across town," she said.
EU divided over Syria
European Union nations enter high-octane talks on Syria as divided as ever, split between moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons and the obligations of slow and burdensome UN diplomacy.
France, like the United States, is preparing possible armed action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Britain has been surprisingly hamstrung by its parliament. And Germany says it will not take part in an attack and would limit itself to a backseat role at most.
While EU leaders are in St. Petersburg with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama during the G20 summit ending Friday, the EU's foreign and defense ministers are meeting in nearby Lithuania through Saturday, seeking to broker a common stance that statements Thursday indicated would prove elusive.
The Kremlin's chief of staff said Russia has been sending warships to the Mediterranean Sea for possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria.
Russian news agencies on Thursday quoted Sergei Ivanov as saying that Russia has been boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean "primarily" in order to organize a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.
Speaking in Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I do not believe yet that we will reach a joint position." And while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton cautiously said in Vilnius that she had been "of course, carefully talking with our colleagues and allies," EU President Herman Van Rompuy – speaking in St. Petersburg – bluntly insisted upon UN cooperation, upsetting the French and widening divisions further.
Rebuffing French urgency, Van Rompuy told reporters that EU nations had to underscore "the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process."
That involves further delays as UN inspectors prepare a report on the August 21 chemical attack and the diplomatic quagmire at the Security Council, where Russia and China have veto power over military action.
By invoking UN approval, Van Rompuy appeared to be isolating France, the lone EU member actively looking at military intervention. French President Francois Hollande came to the G20 summit in hopes of rallying other European countries to support military action, if not with warplanes then at least with logistical or other symbolic help. Van Rompuy's comments echoed those of Merkel – and upset the summit's French contingent.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian held bilateral meetings with several EU counterparts in Vilnius Thursday, aiming to make them fully aware of the "unacceptable nature" of the chemical weapons attack, an official in his office said.
He was pushing for tough language against Syria in a statement expected from Ashton on the crisis in coming days.
On Saturday, US Secretary John Kerry will be coming to Vilnius to confer with his EU counterparts for a tougher stance against Assad.
The US said it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Obama, however, finds himself slowed on taking action as he seeks congressional authorization for the use of force in a vote expected after Congress returns to work September 9.
British Prime Minister David Cameron stunningly lost such a parliamentary vote on military action last week, strongly reducing any chance of a US-British alliance such as the one that dominated the Iraq war a decade ago.
Now, Cameron is on the defensive as he faces world leaders in St. Petersburg.
In the face of such problems, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged "the international community to overcome its divisions."
"Not to act would send a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world that they can use chemical and maybe other weapons of mass destruction without any reaction from the international community," Rasmussen said.
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