Russia’s U.N. Ambassador on Tuesday denounced as lies a report that he had threatened Qatar with annihilation during an argument with the Gulf state’s prime minister over a draft Security Council resolution on Syria that was vetoed by Moscow.
“There is a lie, there is a blatant lie. One has to come up with some different, stronger description,” envoy Vitaly Churkin said of the report circulating on the Internet. “It’s just dishonest and dirty and provocative.”
Qatar had pushed the Security Council to adopt a European and Arab-drafted resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Syria’s president to step aside to end bloody repression of anti-government protesters. But Russia and China vetoed the draft on Saturday, saying it promoted “regime change.”
The Internet report quoted Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem as telling Churkin that a veto would cause Russia to “lose all the Arab countries,” and Churkin as responding that if Sheikh Hamad spoke to him “in this tone once again ... there will be no such thing as Qatar after today.”
The report, whose origin could not immediately be established, cited what it said was a video recording of a conversation at the United Nations last week but did not make clear on what occasion it took place. Sheikh Hamad addressed a Security Council meeting on Syria on Jan. 31.
Churkin told a hastily convened news conference that he had been “inundated by calls in the last couple of hours,” including from Moscow, about the alleged exchange.
He said he had met Sheikh Hamad three times in New York, all with other officials present. “You understand very well that if you want to make threats and discuss arms shipments, whatever, you don’t talk in the presence of 20 people, including your colleagues from the Security Council,” he said.
Churkin said he had established a good relationship with Sheikh Hamad since first meeting him in 2006, and that threats were “not my style.”
“There was not even a hint of any threats, intimidation, rudeness from me or from the prime minister of Qatar,” he added.
Churkin charged that “somebody” was trying to drive a wedge between Russia and the Arab world, highlighting Russian sensitivity over suggestions that its Syria veto may have seriously antagonized Arab countries, whose causes Moscow has long said it champions.
He said that if the “somebody” was from the Arab world, they should keep in mind a Russian saying: “Don’t spit into a well, you may need to drink the water” - suggesting that Arab countries might need Russian backing in the future.
Churkin said he regretted the veto of a resolution supported by 13 of the 15 council members and repeated suggestions that two or three more days of negotiations could have produced a compromise. Western diplomats say proposed Russian amendments would have destroyed the resolution and that Moscow was simply trying to delay the process.