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Syria next steps: With diplomacy stalled, escalation expected

Vetoes by Russia and China at the United Nations Security Council leaves few diplomatic options available to stem the violence in Syria. 

By Correspondent / February 5, 2012

Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari is seen during a UN Security Council meeting in New York Saturday. Russia and China joined forces in a double veto on Saturday to knock down a Western-Arab UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

Allison Joyce/Reuters

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Beirut, Lebanon

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria appear to have reached an impasse following the vetoing by Russia and China of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

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The vote at the UN Security Council on Saturday came amid the worst surge of violence in Syria since the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in mid-March last year, with over 300 people reported dead since Friday in the flashpoint city of Homs.

With diplomacy running out of steam, analysts expect the violence in Syria to intensify as an emboldened Mr. Assad redoubles efforts to stamp out the revolt while the opposition steps up acts of civil disobedience and rebel forces continue the shift to armed resistance.

“The situation in Syria is going to escalate with greater bloodshed in the streets as a consequences of the vetoes which ended up giving the regime greater support,” says Imad Salamey, associate professor of politics at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

He added that there would be an increase of diplomatic pressure on Russia and China to reverse its backing for Syria which would likely require even greater concessions from the US, Europe, and the Arab world.

Watered-down resolution

The draft of the UN Security Council resolution was a watered-down version of the original text presented by Morocco which was based on an Arab League initiative. The Arab League had called for Assad to transfer power to his deputy and for a national unity government to be formed within two months. But the final draft presented for vote on Saturday limited its demands to calling for a cessation of violence and launching a dialogue between the regime and the opposition. Russia has repeatedly warned against UN moves that could set the stage for a military intervention similar to the NATO campaign to support rebels attempting to overthrow former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

A US official involved in Syria policy described the veto as “catastrophic” and suggested that the Syrian opposition and the Arab League should coordinate together to take the diplomatic lead.

“We can’t let Moscow and Beijing have the final word on this,” the official says.

Still, it is unclear what further diplomatic opportunities exist. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, is scheduled to visit Damascus Tuesday where, he said, he will press for “rapid democratic reforms." Assad has promised a raft of political reforms, but implementation has been slow and overshadowed by the worsening violence. Syria blames the uprising on “foreign conspiracies” and says the violence is being perpetrated by “armed terrorist gangs.”

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