UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States has evidence of active Iranian support for the Syrian government’s “abhorent and deplorable” crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said late Tuesday.
“The outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end and now,” she told reporters after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on Syria and other hotspots.
“The brutal violence being used by the government of Syria against its own people is abhorent and deplorable and the United States condemns it in the strongest terms,” Rice said.
Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian, anti-Western regimes in the Arab world. Witnesses say the crackdown by President Bashar Assad has intensified since Friday, with the death toll topping 350.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari responded that “the Security Council shouldn’t rely on media reports.”
“We want the unrest to end. We, too, we regret that there have been some casualties among the civilians,” he told reporters.
But Ja’afari said some armed groups have taken advantage of the demonstrations and started shooting. He said Assad told security forces not to open fire in response and claimed “dozens and dozens of security officers” were shot and killed.
“Unlike other leaders, President Assad is a reformer himself and he should be given the chance to fulfill his mission,” Ja’afari said.
But Rice said Assad’s repeal of decades-old emergency laws, which gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest, and pledge to allow peaceful demonstrations “were clearly not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters.”
“Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is disingenuously blaming outsiders while at the same time seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by the Iranian regime,” the U.S. ambassador said.
Asked to elaborate on the Iranian involvement, Rice refused to go into detail but said “we have said repeatedly that we are very conscious of and concerned by the evidence of active Iranian involvement and support on behalf of the Syrian government and its repression of its people.”
The secretary-general also condemned “utterly the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators, most particularly the use of tanks and live fire that have killed and injured hundreds of people.”
Ban told reporters that Syrian authorities have an obligation to protect civilians and respect human rights.
Ban said he remains convinced that “only an inclusive dialogue and genuine reform can address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and restore peace and social order.”
The secretary-general said he and U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay agree that “there should be an independent, transparent and effective investigation” of the violence.
But Syria’s Ja’afari said Assad had instructed the government to establish a national commission of inquiry about civilian and military casualties.
“Syria as a government, as a state can undertake an investigation by ourselves with full transparency. We have nothing to hide,” he said. “We don’t need help from anybody.”
Four European countries — France, Britain, Germany and Portugal — have circulated a draft media statement to the Security Council that would strongly condemn the violence against peaceful demonstrators. The council put off a discussion of the draft until Wednesday afternoon because some members didn’t have instructions from their capitals.
Lebanon, the only Arab member of the council, has very strong ties to Syria and diplomats said it is likely to oppose a council statement as may Russia, also a friend of Syria.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said “we want to get engaged with everybody and try to find a solution and to push for a political solution.” As permanent council members, Russia and China have veto power on resolutions.
Both Ban and Rice were asked whether there wasn’t a double-standard by the Security Council which authorized military action to protect civilians in Libya but was only considering a press statement on Syria.
Ban said “when it comes to a fundamental principle of human rights the same standards should be applied” but he said situations differ in different countries “so we have to take necessary actions corresponding to each situation.” Rice agreed saying, Syria and Libya are different “and they will be different in terms of action that is feasible and indeed desirable from the Security Council.”