Vast energy wealth has brought Gulf state influence, but widening role has also stirred neighbours’ envy and mistrust.
The Arab League has urged the UN Security Council to adopt a clear resolution to support the league’s efforts in ending the 11-month-old conflict in Syria, but said it opposed foreign military intervention to achieve the objective.
Nabil Elaraby, the regional bloc’s secretary-general, and Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar, appeared on Tuesday before the 15-nation council in New York to present a plan of action, and challenge Russian and Chinese opposition to the measure.
Al Thani, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had “failed to make any sincere effort” to end the crisis and believed the only solution was “to kill its own people”.
“Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work,” he said, following months of efforts to bring the Syrian conflict before the council.
“Realising the hopes of the Syrian people is in your hands,” Al Thani added, asking the council to adopt the resolution, based on the Arab League’s peace plan for the country. “It is part of your responsibility under the (UN) charter.”
However, Russia signalled on Wednesday it would veto a draft UN resolution calling on the Syrian president to step down unless it explicitly ruled out military intervention.
Vitaly Churkin, Moscow’s ambassador to the UN, said Syria should “be able to decide for itself” and said the council “cannot impose the parameters for an internal settlement”.
“It simply does not have the mandate to do so,” he said. “We hope that the council will come to consensus on the Syrian issue, as is not only possible but also necessary.”
Fred Weir, a Moscow-based correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, said when Russia says it is prepared for compromise it means it wants a resolution that rules out any outside interference in Syria.
“The furthest [the Russians] are prepared to go is to distance themselves rhetorically from Assad, and call for that dialogue,” Weir told Al Jazeera.
The United States strongly backed the call by the Arab League and Qatar for “rapid and decisive action”, despite Russia’s opposition.
“It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts, said.
“We all have a choice: Stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there.
“The alternative – spurning the Arab League, abandoning the Syrian people, emboldening the dictator – would compound this tragedy and would mark a failure of our shared responsibility and shake the credibility of the United Nations Security Council,” she said.
Syria criticises ‘double standards’
In its current form, the resolution calls on Assad to halt the government crackdown on protests and implement an Arab League peace plan calling for him to hand over power to his deputy. If Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider “further measures”, a reference to a possible move to impose economic or other sanctions.
In his response, Syria’s UN ambassador hit back at the league.
“How strange it is for us to see some members of the League of Arab States seeking the support of the Security Council against Syria,” Bashar Jaafari said.
“[Syria] will stand firm in confronting its enemies,” he said, accusing the alliance of Western powers and Arab League states of “double standards” and of “fomenting the crisis”.
“One can’t be an arsonist and a firefighter at the same time.”
An actual vote on the resolution is considered unlikely until later this week.
A French official said the draft resolution had a “comfortable majority” of support from 10 of the Security Council’s 15 members, meaning Russia or China would have to use their veto power to stop it.
Li Baodong, China’s ambassador to the UN, said Beijing was opposed to punitive measures such as military action or sanctions against Damascus and instead called for dialogue between Damascus and the opposition.
Li urged Syria to carry out “reforms and safeguard the interests of its people, stop the killing of innocent people and hold dialogue without delay”, warning that any conflict in Syria could have an effect on the wider Middle East.
The draft resolution insists it does not compel states “to resort to the use of force, or the threat of force”, which a diplomat said was a statement aimed at answering the concerns of Russia and China.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the UK’s Independent newspaper, said the reason why the Russians were not going along with the resolution was because “they feel conned by the no-fly zone [in Libya]”.
“They did not vote against the no-fly-zone over Libya at the Security Council. They didn’t think it meant the overthrow of Gaddafi,” he said.
“Since they have their 24-hour port in Tartus – the only 24-hour port they have left in the area – they do not want to lose Syria,” Fisk added, referring to Russia’s naval base in Syria’s second largest port city where Russian warships docked last month.
The diplomatic wrangling came as fighting escalated between Assad’s security forces and protesters, with activists reporting the deaths of at least 37 people across Syria on Tuesday.
“The government is pushing ahead, trying to firm-up its control all over the country, especially in the rebellious areas, like Homs, Deraa and the suburbs of Damascus,” Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon, said.