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Rice on Syria Proposal: U.S. Seeks ‘Unified Decision’ in Security Council

The 15-nation United Nations Security Council drafted an Arab League proposal Tuesday, calling for an end to the Syrian government’s crackdown on the opposition and requiring President Bahar al-Assad to hand over power to his vice president. Ray Suarez discusses the U.N initiative with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.

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    And joining me now from the United Nations is U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice. She's been involved in today's Security Council sessions with Secretary of State Clinton.

    Madam Ambassador, Russian diplomats have called the current U.N. resolution a path to civil war. They're permanent five members. They've got the veto. Is that the end of this resolution?

    SUSAN RICE, United States Ambassador to the United Nations: No, not necessarily, Ray.

    We will see as we get deeper into negotiations where, in fact, the Russians are. They have a fundamental choice to make. They can stand with the Syrian people and the countries in the region in the Arab League in support of a peaceful plan to transfer power and have democratic elections, or they can be on the wrong side of history, and, as Secretary Clinton said today, complicit in the consequences for the Syrian people.

    We hope they'll make the right choice. But there's no assurance of that. In fact, we will get into negotiations, and we'll see whether a resolution that itself imposes no sanctions, has no threat or authorization for the use of military force, but simply condemns the violence, condemns the Syrian regime for its atrocities against its people and calls for supporting in toto the Arab League plan to pursue this peaceful transition can garner their support. It will be an important indication of their intentions.


    Earlier, we saw your boss, the secretary of state, seeking to reassure China and Russia.

    Given the wording, which is what the Russians have objected to — and they say it leaves open the possibility of armed intervention — can they be reassured? Can this be rewritten?


    Ray, there is absolutely nothing, zero, nada in this resolution that calls for, allows, or contemplates the possibility of the use of military force. That is simply false.

    And the secretary said that in the Council today, when she said the analogy to Libya is a false analogy. So there's nothing to fix in this resolution. It is not under Chapter 7 of the charter, which is the provision for the use of force or sanctions or self-defense.

    It is nothing along those lines. So, that is an argument that the opponents of action in Syria have been using to delay and deflect meaningful Council response. There are other aspects of the resolution that they may legitimately object to, such as supporting the Arab League plan, about which they have some reservations.

    But there's nothing in this resolution that threatens or authorizes the use of force. There's nothing that imposes sanctions. There's nothing that falls under Chapter 7, the enforcement provision of the charter.


    Often, a vote is held up until an outcome is more certain. Is the U.S. ready to go ahead with the vote even if it looks like a veto is coming?


    We'll see where the sides line up in the context of the negotiations. Too soon to make that judgment, Ray.

    We're not interested in a divided Council. As the secretary said today, and, indeed, as almost every member of the Council said today, including Russia and China, we seek a unified, consensual decision out of the Security Council that supports our interests, the Arab League's interests, and the Syrian people's interests in a peaceful political transition that ends the killing and ends the crisis.

    Now, that may prove not to be possible. And if that's the case, then Morocco, which has sponsored this resolution, the Arab League, which has sought Council action, and we and others will have to take a decision about how to proceed. But that's premature at this stage.


    As diplomacy takes its steady course in New York at the United Nations, there's no hesitation in Syria. The army is moving strongly against what calls itself the Free Syrian Army. And the people, two dozen a day, who are being killed day in, day out wait for diplomacy to work.


    We have taken the view from the very beginning, Ray, that one death is too many. This has been going on for 11 months. The United States has been very clear that Assad's policies are absolutely reprehensible and need to end immediately.

    We have imposed very tough sanctions on the Syrian regime, as have members of the European Union. The Arab League has called for sanctions. Many others have come. And the economic pressure on Assad is very intense. We're proceeding with a great degree of urgency, because we are deeply concerned that Assad is now stepping up his violence.

    He is taking advantage of the absence of the Arab League monitors to do even more damage. So this is quite urgent. But, as I said earlier, and as the secretary of state said in the Security Council, member states have a choice to make. Are they going to be on the side of the Syrian people and the right side of history and the values that we hold dear, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to chart one's own political future, or are they going to side with a dictator whose days are very numbered?


    Away from the television cameras, members of the Arab League delegation briefed members of Security Council delegations today in New York. Any sign that that helped soften the resistance to the Arab League-backed resolution?


    Well, I think it certainly clarified some misconceptions for those who are listening and have an open mind. There are many who have tried to suggest who — those who are supportive of the Assad regime, that somehow this resolution entails regime change.

    That is false. And, indeed, the Arab League secretary-general, the prime minister of Qatar representing the Arab League member states made that point very clearly. It calls for a process consistent with Syria's constitution for Assad to hand over, delegate responsibility for negotiating the parameters of a peaceful political transition to his vice president.

    That is what the Arab League plan entails. That is what the Council is being asked to endorse, among other elements of the Arab League plan. And so that misconception, which has fueled some concern in various quarters, was certainly directly addressed by our Arab partners in their meetings today and yesterday. And I hope that it has brought some clarity to those that are paying attention.


    The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, thanks for joining us.


    Thank you for having me, Ray.