UNITED NATIONS: Even though Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad if he does not end the use of heavy weapons, Pakistan, which reportedly has suffered from an internal row with its permanent ambassador, abstained.
Pakistan was represented by the acting permanent Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar. Explaining Pakistan's position, he said that Pakistan saw that unity needed on the matter was not witnessed, and there was a lack of "constructive spirit" in the run up to the draft resolution being put to a vote.
It was the third time in nine months that Russia and China have used their powers as permanent members of the council to block resolutions on Syria, and called into question the future of UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace mission.
There were 11 votes in favor, Russia and China's votes against with South Africa the other country which abstained from casting a vote.
"The United Kingdom is appalled at the veto of Russia and China," said Britain's UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant, whose country took the lead in writing up the resolution.
"The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime. They have chosen to put their national interests ahead of the lives of millions of Syrians," Lyall Grant told the council after the veto.
"It is clear that Russia only aims to give more time to the Syrian regime to crush the opposition," said France's envoy Gerard Araud. He added that the Annan peace mission was now threatened.
"Refusing Annan the means of pressure that he asked for is to threaten his mission," Araud told the Council.
The British text, backed by the United States, France, Germany and Portugal, called for non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Assad does not withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian cities in 10 days.
Chapter VII of the charter permits the Security Council to impose sanctions and, should they fail, to pursue tougher action.
However the sanctions were only a threat and would have needed a new resolution, western envoys stressed.
The sanctions proposal was added to a resolution on renewing the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) whose 90-day mandate ends on Friday.
Without a resolution, the UN may have to hurriedly withdraw the nearly 300 unarmed observers now in Damascus.
The UNSMIS operation has been suspended since June 16 because of the mounting violence.
Russia had said it could not accept sanctions or any action under Chapter VII and has proposed a counter-resolution which would just renew the UNSMIS mandate.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone about the resolution on Wednesday, but failed to overcome differences on UN action.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had accused western countries of using "blackmail" by linking the sanctions with the renewal of the UNSMIS mission.
More than 17,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Assad began 16 months ago, activists say. The Security Council faces growing criticism over its failure to take action.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and international envoy Annan had called on the Council to unite and take strong action on Syria in the hours ahead of the vote.
Ban said there was an "extreme urgency" for action to make government and opposition forces halt the violence. Annan said the council must take "decisive" action on the conflict.
India's ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said it was "regrettable" that the council had not sent a united message to the Syrian leadership to back Annan. He said council powers had acted on their "national interests".
Pakistan, which abstained, said that urgent action must be taken to make sure UNSMIS stays in Syria.