Its draft resolution includes a reference to “terrorism” that could be a stumbling block as diplomats try to revive the stalled negotiations.
GENEVA – Russia has presented its own draft resolution on humanitarian aid access in Syria to the U.N. Security Council, adding calls to condemn “terrorism” in the conflict after rejecting a U.S.-backed version.
“Terrorism is certainly no less acute a problem” than the need for aid access to blockaded areas in Syria, said Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. He added that Russia’s draft laid out “our vision of the role the Security Council can play if we want to foster a solution to the problems and not antagonize one side or the other.”
The wrangling over the wording of the resolution reflects the central dispute hampering peace talks here. The Syrian government’s delegation insists on discussing only the fight against terrorism in Syria, while the Syrian opposition and the U.N. mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, are pushing to discuss the formation of a transitional governing body for Syria.
The founding document of the peace talks, the June 2012 Geneva I communiqué, does not mention the word terrorism, but calls for all sides to end violence. Since it was drafted, suicide bombs and other attacks on civilians by extremist jihadist groups have become a much larger problem in the Syrian conflict, with the government and the exiled opposition coalition claiming that their allies on the ground are the ones leading the fight against extremist violence.
A sticking point is the question of how terrorism is defined. The government has often used the term to describe all armed resistance, so the opposition is loath to frame the discussion as a fight against “terrorism” that, to the government, might mean defeating the opposition fighters that the exile coalition supports.
Efforts to revive stalled talks
In Geneva, senior Russian and U.S. officials met Thursday with Brahimi in a bid to find common ground that could allow them to push their respective allies toward progress.
The extent of Moscow’s leverage with the Syrian government is a matter of conjecture, but diplomats believe that as a co-signer of the Geneva communiqué that calls for setting up a transitional government in Syria, it does not want to see the government team end negotiations.
As talks here paused in anticipation of trilateral meetings between the main sponsors — the United States, Russia and the United Nations — fighting intensified in parts of Syria.
But the governor of Homs told Reuters that a cease-fire there that began Friday to allow aid access to blockaded neighborhoods had been extended for an additional three days.
The governor, Talal al-Barazi, said that 1,400 people had been evacuated from the besieged Old City since Friday, when the U.N.-brokered cease-fire began. But he said 220 people were still being held for questioning. U.N. monitors have been present for the questioning, according to U.S. officials, who called for continued international attention to make sure those detained do not disappear into indefinite detention.
Only achievement controversial
The so-called humanitarian pause in Homs, so far the only concrete achievement of the Geneva talks, has been controversial.
Some government supporters say it amounts to feeding enemies, and opponents contend that it is a government scheme to displace or imprison residents and then obliterate whoever and whatever remains.
Diplomatic pressure is building to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to more than 6 million Syrians in need of support after nearly three years of brutal conflict, including a quarter of a million people trapped in besieged areas.
The United Nations’ chief aid coordinator, Valerie Amos, said more pressure is needed on government forces and rebels to stop blocking aid deliveries. “The use of siege as a weapon of war is particularly heinous,” she told the Security Council.
She also suggested in a message on Twitter that the Council’s presidential statement, passed last fall, urging the warring parties to permit aid deliveries, had been flouted.
“Int’l exhortations, including from UNSC, go unheeded,” she said.