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Russia, China snub U.N. talks on draft Syria aid access resolution

Source: Reuters - Mon, 10 Feb 2014 21:22 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds Russian comment In paragraphs 3-5, 10-11)

By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Russia and China on Monday rebuffed the United States, France and Britain and other states by failing to attend negotiations on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to boost aid access in Syria, diplomats said.

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan on Thursday presented their draft to the five veto-wielding council powers and were due to meet with them on Monday, but Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, and Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi did not attend.

Churkin later said that a meeting had not been necessary because the text was "beyond redemption." He said that Russia would veto the Western- and Arab-backed draft resolution if it was put to a vote: "This text is not going to be adopted, let me tell you."

He suggested the move was designed to "whip up political tensions around Syria and this is not what we need now, especially in the context of the Geneva 2 negotiations and also for the purpose for the practical needs of the humanitarians."

A second round of Syria peace talks - known as the Geneva 2 talks - got off to a shaky start on Monday, with the two sides complaining about violations of a local ceasefire and an Islamist offensive respectively in separate meetings with the international mediator.

Diplomats said the draft resolution on aid access was likely to be circulated among the remaining states on the 15-member U.N. Security Council early on Tuesday and then negotiations held by the body on Tuesday afternoon.

"We're still hoping (Russia and China) will engage," one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier.

Russia, with the support of Beijing, has shielded Syria on the U.N. Security Council during the country's three-year-long civil war. The pair have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria's government and threatening it with possible sanctions.

The latest version of the draft aid text, obtained by Reuters, expresses an intent to impose sanctions on individuals and entities obstructing aid and if certain demands in the resolution are not met within 15 days of its adoption.

FRUSTRATION

Churkin told reporters that Russia was discussing what action the Security Council could take to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. While he did not rule out a future need for a resolution, he said Moscow did not believe such a move was necessary yet.

"Our approach is that we need to work pragmatically," he said. "If it's something which is useful, which will not be regarded by people as simply provocative but is something which is really aimed at improving the humanitarian situation, then I think it cannot be ruled out."

A senior Chinese diplomat told Reuters he was unaware of a meeting on the draft resolution.

The United Nations says some 9.3 million Syrians - nearly half the country's population - need help and U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape are slowing the delivery of humanitarian assistance to a trickle.

Amos will brief the Security Council on Thursday on the difficulties of getting access to Syria's neediest people. Diplomats said the draft was unlikely to go to a vote before then.

Western members of the Security Council have been considering a resolution on aid for almost a year. After months of talks, the council eventually adopted a non-binding statement on Oct. 2 urging more access to aid.

But that statement produced only a little administrative progress, such as visas for aid workers and clearance for convoys. No action has been taken on big issues such as the demilitarization of schools and hospitals and access to besieged and hard-to-reach communities.

The United Nations says that well over 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 136,000 have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. (Editing by G Crosse and Mohammad Zargham)

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