The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.
Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council.
The US, France and Britain are planning to bring a new resolution at the first opportunity.
The security council source said that similar vetoes in the past had killed off attempts to intervene in crises ranging from Zimbabwe to Georgia, but this time it was different.
“It will not go away,” the source said. “It will not be next week. We don’t have a date. But there are a number of ways the security council can get back to this.”
Further civil unrest in Syria would offer an opportunity, as would a request by the Arab League for intervention.
Diplomats at the UN cannot recall an episode during the Obama administration in which the US has been so markedly critical of Russia.
The vote was 9-2 in favour, with four abstentions: South Africa, India, Brazil and the Lebanon.
The resolution reflects the shift in US policy, which began with hopes that Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, might be open to negotiation. But those hopes have gradually been abandoned by all senior figures in the US foreign policy establishment.
Rice, who before joining the Obama administration established a reputation as an outspoken critic of the failure of the west to intervene in humanitarian crises round the world, said after the vote: “The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security.”
Without naming Russia and China – but making it clear they were the target of her words – she said: “Let there be no doubt: this is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.”
She added: “This is about whether this council, during a time of sweeping change in the Middle East, will stand with peaceful protesters crying out for freedom, or with a regime of thugs with guns that tramples human dignity and human rights. As matters now stand, this council will not even mandate the dispatch of human rights monitors to Syria – a grave failure that may doom the prospects for peaceful protest in the face of a regime that knows no limits.”
Rice accused Russia and China of looking the other way as attempts at a peaceful settlement have been spurned by Assad. The international community now had to bring “real consequences” to bear, she said.
“In failing to adopt the draft resolution before us, this council has squandered an opportunity to shoulder its responsibilities to the Syrian people. We deeply regret that some members of the council have prevented us from taking a principled stand against the Syrian regime’s brutal oppression of its people.”
She said the US will not rest until the council meets its responsibilities.
The resolution had been weakened considerably since the original text was circulated to the 15 security council members in early August seeking to impose sanctions.
The draft resolution on Tuesday only said the security council would “consider its options” in 30 days’ time if Assad failed to stop the violence, and would seek a peaceful settlement of the crisis. It said the options would include sanctions. To further water down the resolution in an attempt to make it more acceptable to Russia and China, there was no hint of military intervention.
As well as expressing outrage over the veto, Rice walked out of the security council when Syria, exercising its right to speak, accused the US of backing genocide against the Palestinians.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, insisted Moscow did not support Assad, and opposed the resolution because it was confrontational, amounting to an ultimatum on sanctions.
Russia is still smarting from the way the US, Britain and France used a UN resolution on Libya as cover for intervention on scale that Moscow insists the resolution never envisaged.
The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said the draft resolution contained nothing any member of the council should have felt a need to oppose.
“Yet two members chose to veto. It will be a deep disappointment to the people of Syria and to the wider region,” he said.