12/26/2011 08:36 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2012

UN Security Council Fiddles While Syria Burns (Albeit With Mock Humor)

UNITED NATIONS - Arguing over a resolution on Syria, Russia and the United States indulged in barbs that resulted in a U.S. cartoon of the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" adorned with the face of the Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador. View image

To begin: On December 22, Churkin, the current president of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, proposed members authorize an investigation of NATO bombings in Libya, particularly after the New York Times reported civilian deaths leading to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi's government. (Russia and four other Council members have long criticized NATO of "regime change," saying this was not part of the Council's authorization of force to protect Libyan civilians.)

"Bombast and bogus" vs "Stanford dictionary of expletives"
In response, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called the insistence on a Libyan investigation a diversion from the ongoing slaughter in Syria, saying the Human Rights Council would produce the results of a probe in March. She said:

"Oh, the bombast and bogus claims. Welcome to December. Is everybody sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?... And, frankly, I think it's not an exaggeration to say that this is something of a cheap stunt to divert attention from other issues and to obscure the success of NATO and its partners-and indeed the Security Council-in protecting the
people of Libya...Let us see this for what it is: it is duplicitous, it's redundant, it's superfluous and it's a stunt."

Churkin then called his own news conference on Friday to say Rice had delivered a "rather unusual outburst" from someone with a Stanford education, where Rice received her undergraduate degree.

"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear -- bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt...You know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you....Really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council."

Rice's reply? She used Twitter to say: "Happy Holidays to my good friend Amb Churkin, who's clearly had a long month as Sec Council president. Hope he gets some well deserved rest."

Well, the upshot is that there is no Security Council investigation on Libya, which Churkin said could have been done quickly with military advisors. And so far the stalemate on a Syria resolution continues except for a Council statement condemning terrorist attacks that Damascus believes were the work of Al Qaeda. Some 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since March, most of them by forces aligned with the government.

Russia had submitted a draft resolution on Syria and then revised it last week but Germany, among others, said it did not go far enough. Contrary to past practice, Russia did not include the European and U.S. amendments in brackets, a sign they were in dispute. Instead many were eliminated entirely.

Arab League demands
For one, Western envoys want the resolution to support the Arab League proposals, not just sections of them. The Arab League plans to send 150 monitors to Syria, which Damascus has accepted. Their plan also calls for an end to violence, the withdrawal of troops from the streets, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition. The League has also suspended Syria's membership and imposed some sanctions.

According to Germany's Ambassador Peter Wittig:

"We need to put the weight of the Council behind the Arab League, behind all the decisions of the Arab League in its entirety. We should not pick and choose but we should support the Arab League. That includes for instance the demand to release political prisoners (and) a clear signal for accountability for those who have perpetrated human rights' violations. We have not seen our amendments reflected in the Russian draft."

Churkin accused some delegations of wanting to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although so far there is no move for military action by the West as in Libya. He said Russia as well as other nations had attempted to start a dialogue between the Damascus leadership and the opposition but had failed because not enough countries joined in.

So now the question is whether Europeans and the United States will agree to a resolution that is weaker than they proposed or whether the Russian initiative is a play for time and there will be no vote at all.