The United States has vowed to block funding and arms supplies to Syria after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution condemning the government’s crackdown on dissent.
“We will work to seek regional and national sanctions against Syria and strenghten the ones we have. They will be implemented to the fullest to dry up the sources of funding and the arms shipments that are keeping the regime’s war machine going”, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists in Sofia on Sunday.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic presidential candidate, went further than Clinton and talked of the military option.
“If Russia and China don’t change their minds about the veto … then the world will not allow us to say there’s nothing we can do about it,” Lieberman said.
“So we should begin thinking about what we can do, particularly with the Arab League,” he said. “I think it begins with support for the Free Syrian Army.”
The senator said a “range of support” could be given to the rebels, from medical supplies to intelligence and reconnaissance surveillance.
“And then ultimately it is providing them with weapons,” he said during a panel discussion on the Middle East.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV on Saturday after the UN vote, Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the Syrian National Council, sought to avoid talk of military support for the rebel fighters. However, he did say such support was possible “if necessary” to “protect the Syrian people.”
Yet the commander of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] said they have no choice now but to fight to free the country of Assad’s regime after Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the FSA, said that “there is no other road” except military action by his fighters to topple Assad.
Meanwhile, the Arab League’s secretary-general has said Arab states will not stop their efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Nabil Elaraby said the Russian and Chinese veto “does not negate that there is clear international support for the resolutions of the Arab League”. Elaraby said this in a statement obtained by Reuters news agency on Sunday.
‘License to kill’
Arab nations and other backers of the Security Council resolution also expressed their anger and frustration at the double veto during an international security conference in the German city of Munich.
Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar’s minister for international co-operation, said the vetoes sent “a very bad signal to Assad that there (is a) license to kill.”
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Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, called for the establishment of an international contact group to help end the bloodshed in Syria.
Turkey and the Arab League should play a key role in such a body, Westerwelle said in Munich.
Europe will strengthen sanctions imposed on Damascus in a bid to boost pressure on the regime, France said on Sunday.
“Europe will again harden sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime. We will try to increase this international pressure and there will come a time when the regime will have to realise that it is completely isolated and cannot continue,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on BFMTV television.
Juppe also said that France would “help the Syrian opposition to structure and organise itself” and would be working to create an international group on Syria.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed the creation of a “group of friends” of the Syrian people.
Juppe said Sarkozy “will take steps in the coming days to try to bring together all those who consider the current situation (in Syria) absolutely intolerable.”
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught said that the idea of a contact group seemed similar to the one formed in the early days of the Libyan uprising. “Certainly some of it seems to be a rerun of the early days of Libya, but I say that with many caveats,” she said.
“In as much as this ‘friends of Syria’ group which Hillary Clinton spoke about sounds very much like the formation of a sort of Libya contact-style-organisation, an alliance of people who are comfortable with the idea that the regime’s days are over, and they need to start planning for a future without Bashar.”
Iran welcomed the Russian and Chinese veto, the official IRNA news agency reported.
“By vetoing the proposed sanctions China and Russia have been just,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said.
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“The Security Council has become a tool for the West’s bullying … of other nations, and this time Russia and China stood up against it,” the Islamic republic’s top diplomat said.
“The Security Council … wanted to take a path in deciding a head of state, while it is not within the functions of this council to interfere in other nations’ internal affairs,” he said.
The Syrian government on Sunday said the UN vetoes as a victory, saying the world must now support the regime’s program for resolving the crisis.
The state-run Tishreen daily said the veto was an incentive for Damascus to continue with announced political reforms, which include drafting a new constitution, allowing the formation of new political parties and holding parliamentary elections.
It said the international community should now back moves for a dialogue between the government and opposition.
At the same time, it vowed that the government would simultaneously continue its crackdown, saying it would “restore what the Syrians enjoyed for decades and what they are demanding today which is stability and security and confronting all forms of terrorism.”