Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Friday which would have imposed an arms embargo against Zimbabwe and financial and travel sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and other key leaders of the country's ruling party.
The resolution was proposed by the United States and backed by eight other countries, including Burkina Faso and European members of the council. South Africa, Libya and Vietnam joined Russia and China in voting against it. Indonesia abstained.
Speaking to UN correspondents after the vote on Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, launched an attack on South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, charging him with "actions that appear to be protecting Mr Mugabe and to be working hand-in-glove with him at times."
Khalilzad added: "While... Mugabe uses violent means to fragment and weaken the opposition, President Mbeki uses diplomacy in bringing factional leaders within the... opposition, to fragment the opposition by playing with the politics of the opposition." However, he said the U.S. was "encouraged by the trends that we see inside South Africa. I think he (Mbeki) is out of touch with the trends inside his own country."
Within the Security Council, Khalilzad accused Russia of reneging on the G8 statement on Zimbabwe which President Dmitry Medvedev signed up to earlier in the week. In the statement, the world's major industrialized nations declared: "We will take further steps, inter alia introducing financial and other measures against those individuals [in Zimbabwe] responsible for violence."
Khalilzad said that Russia's "U-turn... is particularly surprising and disturbing... The Russian performance here today raises questions about its reliability as a G8 partner."
The resolution was supported by the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Italy and Panama.
Its supporters characterized it as a means of giving Zimbabwe's rulers "incentives" to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai, whose party won the highest number of votes in Zimbabwe's March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections. They said sanctions could be lifted in response to progress in talks.
Opponents said the situation in Zimbabwe did not meet the standards for sanctions stipulated in Chapter VII of the UN Charter - that it was a threat to international peace and security. China's representative, Wang Guangya, told journalists the resolution would have been "counter-productive" to African-led talks to resolve the crisis. "We count on the efforts of the Africans," he said.
Speaking against the resolution during the council meeting, Angola said it could exacerbate conflict on the ground and complicate dialogue. Tanzania asked the council to give a chance to the talks set in motion by last week's African Union resolution before adopting a "punitive option."
Zimbabwe's UN representative, Boniface Chidyausiku, told reporters after the vote that "the UN has stuck to the Charter. If the resolution had proceeded, it was going to impede the process of negotiations." He ascribed the resolution to "the arrogance of the Americans, that they can rule the world. They can't."