US envoy Susan Rice on Thursday condemned “reprehensible” Russian arms deliveries to Syria as she stepped up US calls for increased international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
The US ambassador to the United Nations also accused the Damascus government of a “blatant lie” by denying it was involved in a massacre in which 108 people were killed.
A Russian ship carrying arms arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on May 26, according to the Human Rights First group.
The ship, the Professor Katsman, apparently turned off its transponder on May 26 in the vicinity of Tartus, Sadia Hameed of Human Rights First told AFP. The vessel had been tracked from Piraeus in Greece.
Hameed said she could not be sure of the cargo because there was no official manifest. “The sense we get is that (the ship’s contents) are small arms and ammunition.”
Russia is Syria’s last main international ally and has defended Assad in UN Security Council debates on the uprising against him. Russia’s main Mediterranean naval base in Tartus.
“With respect to the reported docking of a ship carrying Russian arms, this is obviously of the utmost concern given that the Syrian government continues to use deadly force against civilians,” Rice told reporters at UN headquarters.
“It is not technically, obviously, a violation of international law since there is not an arms embargo, but it is reprehensible that arms would continue to flow to a regime that is using such horrific and disproportionate force against its own people,” Rice said.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin has rejected criticism of the arms sales insisting they are legal and have no influence on the Syria conflict.
“The weapons we may have provided to Syria under various contracts, which were concluded a long time ago, are fully in line with international law and do not contribute to the current armed violence in Syria,” Churkin told reporters on Wednesday.
Rice also condemned the Syrian government’s denials of involvement in a massacre in the town of Houla last week in which at least 108 people died.
The ambassador dismissed the Syrian government’s statement that the massacre was carried out by “armed groups.”
“I think quite simply it’s another blatant lie,” she said.
“There is no factual evidence, including that provided by the UN observers that would substantiate that rendition of events.”
Rice reaffirmed US demands that Assad must stand down under any deal to end the 15-month old Syria conflict.
But she did not repeat a statement that the United States and its allies may have to consider acting outside of the United Nations if the Security Council does not press Assad to end the battle against protesters and opposition groups.
The US ambassador said there were three main scenarios for the conflict, the best of which would be for Assad to comply with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan — which includes ending attacks on towns and starting talks on a political transition.
Rice said the United States fully supports Annan’s efforts.
“If they are going to succeed, what is clear at this stage, is that the government of Syria is going to have to feel much greater pressure, particularly from its partners and supporters to fulfill its commitments,” Rice said.
“Up to date it has not felt sufficient compulsion to do so,” she added.
The second scenario would see the 15-nation Security Council take joint action.
“It is the obligation of the Security Council to come together and apply that pressure in a collective way on the government of Syria,” she said.
Russia has so far blocked any UN move to put sanctions on Syria or permit military action.
Rice said the third and worst scenario is a wider “proxy” conflict dragging in other countries in the region.
“If in fact we are all united and we don’t want to see that scenario, then we had better do something to change the current dynamic because that is the direction in which we seem to be heading if the status quo persists,” said Rice.