China and Russia on Friday blocked a US draft resolution in the UN Security Council that would have slapped sanctions on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe over his disputed re-election.
The Chinese and Russian envoys joined their colleagues from South Africa, Libya and Vietnam in opposing the draft which would have imposed an assets freeze and a travel ban on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies, as well as an arms embargo. Indonesia abstained.
It was the first double veto by Russia and China since January 2007 when they vetoed a draft resolution in the 15-member council that would have urged Burma to ease repression and release political prisoners.
Voting in favor in Friday's vote were the United States, Britain, France, Burkina Faso, Belgium, Costa Rica, Italy, Panama and Croatia.
The sponsors said the sanctions were needed to put pressure on Mugabe to stop the violence against his political foes and enhance prospects of democratic rule through a power sharing deal with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Opponents argued that passage of the text would undermine ongoing South African-mediated negotiations between Zimbabwe's ruling party and its opposition and would have run counter to the wishes of African Union leaders at their summit in Egypt earlier this month.
They also said Zimbabwe's political crisis did not amount to a threat to regional or international peace and security and said adopting the sanctions would have amounted to interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.
Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers, whose country is Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, said the 15-member "missed the opportunity to impose a legal obligation on Mr Mugabe's government to end the violence and intimidation which have scarred Zimbabwe."
"We have missed the opportunity to back up South Africa's mediation efforts with something more than words," he added.
He said the sponsors would have to look "for further opportunities both here and elsewhere" to assist the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.
His US counterpart Zalmay Khalilzad said he wad "disappointed by the Russian and Chinese vetoes.
The "U-turn" in the Russian position was particularly "disturbing" and raises questions about Moscow's "reliability as a G8 partner," he added.
Khalilzad said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this week supported a G8 statement at a summit in Japan that promised new actions, including targeted "financial measures" against Mugabe and his cronies.
The US envoy also had some harsh words for South Africa, accusing its President Thabo Mbeki of protecting Mugabe.
Khalilzad said this was a "source of disappointment, given the history of South Africa."
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters that Friday's vote was "a failure for the Security Council."
"We think some sanctions should have been added to get the people responsible for the violence to change their attitude," he said. "We regret what has happened."
His Chinese counterpart Wang Guangya said adopting the sanctions would have been "counterproductive" and would have undermined the South African-mediated talks between the rival Zimbabwean parties.
"We support the efforts by the African Union and President Mbeki to bring all the parties together," he added.
Zimbabwe's UN Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku expressed gratitude to those council members who voted against the sanctions.
"Putting more sanctions on Zimbabwe would not have helped the people of Zimbabwe," he added.
The vote came as Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF ruling party and opposition Movement for Democratic Change held a second day of talks in South Africa.
The talks, aimed at laying the groundwork for fully fledged negotiations to resolve Zimbabwe's political crisis, were the first since Mugabe won a new term as president in a June 27 poll widely denounced as a sham.
The US draft would have demanded that the Harare government "begin without delay a substantive dialogue between the parties with the aim of arriving at a peaceful solution that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed by the March 29 (first-round presidential) elections."
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won that first round but fell short of a majority. He pulled out of the run-off citing a campaign of violence and intimidation.