Citing Russian logjam, US says it will act on Syria without UN green light

As Security Council meeting ends with no progress, State Department says it can’t be held up by Moscow’s ‘intransigence’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

UN Security Council members vote during a March meeting  (photo credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews/File)
UN Security Council members vote during a March meeting (photo credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews/File)

WASHINGTON — As an internationally coordinated attack against Syrian targets seemed increasingly close, United States State Department officials said Wednesday that America would act with or without approval from the United Nations Security Council.

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf repeatedly emphasized that “Russian intransigence” in its opposition to measures that would weaken embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad had caused a logjam in the UN.

“We’ve consistently said that we support Security Council action, but we heard nothing different from the Russian delegation today than what we’ve heard in recent months. So we had no reason to believe that efforts at the Security Council would result in any other outcome than previous efforts,” Harf said, speaking shortly after the Security Council failed to advance a British-sponsored resolution against the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapons attack last week.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that Russian and Chinese envoys walked out of the UK-sponsored Security Council debate on an international response to the chemical weapons use in Syria.

A separate report, credited by Al-Arabiya to the Russian Interfax news service, said that a senior Russian official asserted Wednesday that Russia would stay out of the way in the event of a US-led strike on Syria. But Russia, a major supporter of the Syrian regime, has still said its air defense systems supplied to Damascus would complicate US-led efforts at military intervention.

Reading a pre-prepared list of instances in which the Russian delegation blocked council actions concerning Syria, Harf said the Russians had already vetoed three resolutions on the conflict.

“We see no avenue going forward given continued Russian opposition to meaningful Security Council action,” she said.

“We do not believe that the regime can continue to hide behind the fact that the Russians will block any meaningful actions by the Security Council,” Harf warned. “The Security Council is an important venue…but we cannot be held up in responding by Russia’s continued intransigence.”

Although she was pressed on the question, Harf would not clarify that diplomatic attempts to contact and work with the Assad regime have been exhausted, but she did reiterate the message that “it is important that we send a strong message that this kind of mass scale indiscriminate use of chemical weapons is not acceptable.”

NBC News reported on Wednesday that the US had “passed the point of no return” on a Syria strike, quoting a senior American official. But officials in Washington and London have also cautioned that what form a response to Syria would take had still not been decided.

The US and others have said there is undeniable evidence last Wednesday’s gas attack occurred and was carried out by regime forces, a claim Syria denies.

Harf shined a sliver of light on the content of the soon-to-be declassified intelligence report on last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed hundreds of Syrian civilians.

“There were multiple rockets fired by a specific delivery system,” Harf said, emphasizing that only Assad’s regime has that sort of capability.

The Salafist al-Nusra opposition forces, she said, definitely did not have the capability to use the type of chemical weapons that were deployed in the attack.

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