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Russia cancels meeting on Syria over lack of wide participation

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin answers reporters' questions at the United Nations after a closed meeting of the Security Council, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

UNITED NATIONS: Russia canceled a hastily called meeting Friday of key nations and international organizations which it hoped would issue an appeal to the Syrian government and opposition to end the 19-month conflict and start political talks.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country is the most important ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, surprised the U.N. Security Council, which is bitterly divided over Syria, with the announcement Thursday of the planned meeting. The announcement came after the Security Council decided to end the U.N. military observer mission in Syria and back a small new liaison office to support any future peace efforts.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed Security Council resolutions that would have stepped up pressure against the Syrian government by threatening sanctions if the fighting didn’t stop.

U.N. diplomats said Churkin’s announcement that Russia was calling for a meeting of countries that agreed on guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition in Geneva in June looked like a political move to put Moscow in the driver’s seat while sidestepping the Security Council.

Russia’s U.N. Mission said Friday’s meeting was canceled at the request of some members of the Action Group for Syria, which includes the U.N. and Arab League chiefs, the five permanent Security Council nations – the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain – Turkey, the EU, and Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, which hold key posts in the Arab League.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said the meeting had been canceled because only Russia, China and the U.N. political chief were planning to attend. They also said it was awkward for Russia to hold a meeting at the U.N. and announce it in the Security Council when many of the 15 Council members weren’t invited.

Russia’s U.N. Mission spokesman, Anton Uspensky, said the members had different reasons, including short notice and the need for consultations.

No time has been set to reschedule the meeting.

Churkin told reporters Thursday he wanted the Geneva action group – along with Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are not members – to make “a joint or parallel appeal to all the parties of the Syrian conflict that they end violence as soon as possible by a certain point in time.”

Churkin said the appeal should also urge the government and opposition to appoint representatives “to negotiate toward a political solution, and in particular toward the establishment of a transitional governing body as provided for in the Geneva document.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 18, 2012, on page 11.

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