Security conference ends with mutual finger-pointing over stance on Assad

Mon, Feb 6, 2012, 00:00

DIPLOMATIC GRAPPLING over Syria dominated the Munich Security Conference yesterday, with Arab attendees denouncing the failed UN resolution condemning violence in Syria as a “disgrace” and a “licence to kill” for the Assad regime.

In Munich’s Bayerische Hof hotel, Russian and Chinese delegates defended their veto as necessary to stop an “unbalanced” resolution being passed in New York.

Last-minute talks between US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Munich came to nothing. With the resolution doomed, Mrs Clinton called on “friends of a democratic Syria” to work against the Assad regime, calling veto powers “complicit” in the bloodshed and a likely civil war.

Unimpressed, Mr Lavrov said Russia condemned “all violence” in Syria – from the Assad regime and the “armed groups” that had promised peaceful protest. Anyone who did not do this, he said, “was taking sides in a civil war”. “It is our goal to preserve international peace and security,” he told Munich delegates.

That was too much for Yemeni Nobel Prize winner Tawakkul Karman, who let fly at China and Russia for “not just supporting Assad, but dictatorship and corruption”. “Russia and China don’t know their own interests, they don’t want to share international measures, but these two countries carry the human responsibility for this massacre,” said Ms Karman, the 33-year-old co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, in a fiery speech to delegates. “In the name of the Arab youth, I condemn the position of these countries. They support the criminal regime of Baschar al Assad.”

Later, during a panel discussion, Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali said the Security Council had been “abused” and called for the international community to rethink its procedures.

“The least thing one could do is to break off all contacts to Syria,” he said. “The Syrian people are not looking for declarations and condemnations, they expect actions.”

Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed concern the international community was falling into “Cold War logic”.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the vote meant the international community had “abandoned the Syrian people” and said the Syrian leadership “had no future”. “We will increase pressure on the Assad regime and I regret deeply, emphatically, the veto – it was a vote against the Syrian people,” he said.

This year’s conference ended on a glum note with organiser Wolfgang Ischinger conceding the Munich meeting “couldn’t serve as a catalyst to a solution”.

On another topic, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd warned an increasingly “introspective” Europe about ignoring the rise of Asia and “talking itself into an early economic and therefore globally political grave”.

“We actually think Europe has fundamental strengths to deliver to the rest of the world but we are not seeing a whole lot of that right now,” he said.