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Brahimi appeals to U.S., Russia for Syria help

UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press conference on the Syrian peace talks at the United Nations headquarters on February 13, 2014 in Geneva. (AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES)

GENEVA: Warning that “failure” was staring him in the face, Geneva II mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Thursday the United States and Russia had promised renewed support to keep their rival Syrian allies talking.

The U.N. diplomat met senior diplomats from The U.S. and Russia in Geneva, hoping the co-sponsors of the 3-week-old negotiating process could bury their own deep differences over Syria and prevail respectively on the opposition and government to move ahead and compromise.

“They have kindly reaffirmed their support for what we are trying to do and promised that they will help both here and in their capitals and elsewhere to unblock the situation for us, because until now we are not making much progress in this process,” Brahimi told a news conference.

Both U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov looked tense as they arrived at the U.N. Thursday afternoon, although Sherman mustered a short wave to the sea of waiting cameras.

Asked after his two-hour meeting with Gatilov and Sherman whether the whole process had failed, Brahimi said:

“Failure is always staring at us in the face. As far as the United Nations is concerned we will certainly not leave one stone unturned if there is a possibility to move forward. If there isn’t, we will say so.”

A U.S. official said “the hard work of this diplomacy continues and the United States will continue to support this work, while Russian officials were not immediately available for comment.

But opposition delegate Badr Jamous, following a meeting with Sherman, said her meeting with Brahimi and Gatilov was “not successful.” “She just told us about the meeting with the Russians and Brahimi and it was not successful,” he told reporters, without elaborating.

For his part, opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi said Brahimi’s efforts were “welcome” but without progress in talks, the opposition would “demand” the U.N. Security Council “make a stand.” Syrian government delegates were not immediately available to comment.

With the process at an apparent standstill Russia seemed prepared to play a greater role, and was expected to put more pressure on the regime to move things forward.

Russia – which has rejected a Security Council resolution that would allow the delivery of food and aid to besieged Homs and other cities – Wednesday proposed a counteroffer that not include the threat of sanctions on Damascus.

Gatilov met Wednesday in Geneva with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, the regime delegation chief.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, told AFP late Wednesday the Russians “intend to push these negotiations and make them succeed.”

“This was the main topic in the long meeting between Mr. Moallem and Mr. Gatilov,” he said, but stresses that “we believe all the pressure should be put on the other side.”

A new standoff between Russia and the West in the Security Council, over resolutions on aid for Syria, has contributed to the deadlock in Geneva, while continuing fighting has left tens of thousands under siege and hoping for relief from abroad.

Russia said it had presented a draft U.N. resolution on fighting “terrorism” in Syria and its own plan for improving aid access, throwing down a challenge to Western states on the Council which proposed another formulation that Moscow says would open the way for Western military intervention.

In Geneva, where the second round of peace talks has made little progress since Monday, Western diplomats and the Syrian opposition delegates have complained that President Bashar Assad’s government was refusing to discuss proposals for a transition of power and hoped Russia would press it to do so.“What we have seen so far is that the regime is not serious,” opposition delegate Anas al-Abdeh said.

“The sooner the Russians can put enough pressure on the Syrian regime side, the better. And they are positioned to do that.”

Western diplomats also said they hoped Moscow could apply pressure on the Damascus government to do more to compromise. If not, some feared a third round of talks might not follow any time soon after this week’s discussions wind up.

Several delegates said it was unclear Thursday evening even whether talks would continue as planned Friday.

Opposition activists say that the rate of killing has increased in the three weeks since the Geneva talks began – averaging a record of more than 230 a day – as both sides have sought to shore up their bargaining positions by gaining territory.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful international ally during the 3-year-old conflict, has used its veto in the Security Council to block bids to pressure him with condemnation or the threat of sanctions.

Moscow’s new push for a resolution condemning acts of “terrorism” is in tune with rhetoric from Damascus, which uses the term to describe all those fighting to oust Assad in the conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people.

The Syrian government delegation has resisted efforts to discuss a transition of power in Geneva this week, saying fighting “terrorism” must be addressed first.

“Terrorism is certainly no less acute a problem” than the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow. He added that “terrorist groups” fighting there were a growing threat.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The U.N. diplomat met senior diplomats from The U.S. and Russia in Geneva, hoping the co-sponsors of the 3-week-old negotiating process could bury their own deep differences over Syria and prevail respectively on the opposition and government to move ahead and compromise.

Both U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov looked tense as they arrived at the U.N. Thursday afternoon, although Sherman mustered a short wave to the sea of waiting cameras.

Asked after his two-hour meeting with Gatilov and Sherman whether the whole process had failed, Brahimi said:

With the process at an apparent standstill Russia seemed prepared to play a greater role, and was expected to put more pressure on the regime to move things forward.

Gatilov met Wednesday in Geneva with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, the regime delegation chief.

Russia said it had presented a draft U.N. resolution on fighting "terrorism" in Syria and its own plan for improving aid access, throwing down a challenge to Western states on the Council which proposed another formulation that Moscow says would open the way for Western military intervention.


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