UNITED NATIONS - Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin and US Ambassador Susan Rice have been involved in a war of words reminiscent of the Cold War days during on going discussions about how to respond to the Arab Spring.
But their barbs at each other intensified on Friday when Churkin, who is president of the 15-member Council for this month, stepped up calls for a UN investigation of NATO air strikes in Libya, that killed civilians during its air campaign against forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi. This infuriated the United States and its allies, with Rice calling the move a "cheap stunt.
US and its European allies also feel frustrated as Russia, a veto power, resists their attempts to use the Security Council to ratchet up political pressure, through the threat of sanctions, on Syria to compel President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent crackdown on protesters.
Rice suggested that the real intent of the Russian initiative on Libya was to divert attention from Syria's conduct. "Oh, the bombast and bogus claims," Rice said on Wednesday, after listening to Churkin speak outside the council. "Welcome to December. Is everybody sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?"
The Russian delegation on Friday presented a new draft resolution on the crisis that Western governments immediately rejected as still not tough enough on President Assad.
Churkin held a briefing Friday to respond to Rice's comments, maintaining that the United States and its European partners are seeking to use the council to bring about regime change in Syria, and that their refusal to support a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict has exacerbated tensions, driving the country into an increasingly violent civil war.
But the briefing quickly got personal, as Churkin recalled what he described as a "rather unusual outburst" by Rice.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," he said. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you," said Churkin mocking Rice's alma mater.
"We here that the Obama administration wants to establish a dialogue with the international community in the United Nations, and in the Security Council," he added. "If that is to be the case, if this is the intention, really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council."
Rice responded on the twitter," "Happy Holidays to my good friend Amb Churkin, who's clearly had a long month as Sec Council president. Hope he gets some well deserved rest."