The Obama administration dialed up the political pressure on Russia and China on Monday as violence in Syria intensified and the United States closed its embassy there.
The outcry came after Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution over the weekend that would have supported an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford left that country Monday, a move that was made because Syria had not properly addressed U.S. security concerns at the embassy, officials said.
As administration officials attacked China and Russia, President Obama called once again for Assad to step down.
“We have been relentless in sending a message that it is time for Assad to go, that the kind of violence that we've seen exercised against his own people over this weekend and over the past several months is inexcusable,” Obama said in an interview with NBC News.
“It is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention, and I think that's possible,” Obama said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the veto a “travesty” while traveling through Europe this weekend, saying China and Russia “bear full responsibility for protecting the brutal regime in Damascus.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday the Assad regime was a “losing bet” for its supporters, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the vote from China and Russia was “disgusting.”
Russia and China defended their veto against the U.N. Syrian resolution, and one Russian official characterized the West’s reaction as “hysteria.”
"Some of the voices heard in the West with evaluations of the results of the vote in the U.N. Security Council on the Syria resolution sound, I would say, improper, somewhere on the verge of hysteria," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to wire reports from Moscow.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing on Monday that China was not playing favorites or protecting the Syrian regime.
“Unfortunately, the countries that proposed the resolution forced a vote despite the serious differences among various sides, and this approach was not conducive to the unity and authority of the Security Council and is not conducive to the appropriate resolution of the problem,” Liu said. “Therefore, China voted against the draft resolution.”
But after the U.S. embassy closed on Monday, Obama administration officials continued their criticisms of Russia's and China’s vetoes.
Making several media appearances Monday, Rice predicted that China and Russia would “come to regret” their vetoes. She called the U.N. resolution “potentially the last opportunity for a peaceful dialogue” and said the veto increases “the likelihood that the violence will escalate.”
“The fact that Russia and China chose to align themselves up with a dictator that is on his last legs, rather than the people of Syria, rather than the people of the Middle East, rather than the principled views of the rest of the international community, was indeed disgusting and shameful,” Rice said in an interview on MSNBC.
Carney said at the White House press briefing that the Syrian government’s killing its own people was one of the “telltale signs” that the regime’s future was “limited at best.”
“Those who voted against the resolution need to realize that betting everything on Assad is a recipe for failure, not just for the interests of those countries but for the stability of the region and for Syria's future,” Carney said.
Fighting between the Syrian government and opposition forces has gone on for 11 months, and the U.N. estimates that more than 6,000 have been killed there.
The United States has taken a less aggressive tack in Syria than with former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, where NATO forces mounted a bombing campaign against the longtime Libyan leader to help opposition forces oust him.
Carney said Monday that these situations are taken on a case-by-case basis, and that “no option is off the table,” though the United States still wants a diplomatic solution to resolve the crisis.
In the face of the U.N. veto, Clinton said the United States would have to “redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations.” She said the United States would work to “dry up the sources of funding and the arms shipments that are keeping the regime's war machine going.”
“We have to increase diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime and work to convince those people around President Assad that he must go,” Clinton said. “There has to be a recognition of that and a new start to try to form a government that will represent all of the people of Syria.”