Friday, December 18, 2015

Major powers struggle to agree UN resolution ahead of Syria talks

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council were struggling to agree on a draft resolution endorsing an international bid to end the five-year-old civil war in Syria ahead of ministerial talks taking place in New York on Friday.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told reporters that the five veto-wielding council members did not yet have an agreed draft to present to the 15-nation Security Council, which they are due to do on Friday following the ministerial talks.

Originally, Western powers hoped the council would rubber-stamp a resolution endorsing a two-year road map for talks between Syria’s government and opposition on a unity government expected to begin in January and eventual elections. Council diplomats said they hoped agreement on a text could be clinched.

The road map, which also calls for a nationwide ceasefire that would not apply to the Islamic State (IS) group, Nusra Front and some other militant groups, was worked out in two rounds of ministerial talks in Vienna.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested there were significant disagreements among the five powers.

“I’m not sure it’s going to happen because there are some unfortunately deliberate, or not deliberate, attempts to undercut the Vienna documents and we don’t want to see that,” he told reporters without elaborating.

When asked what the problems were, he said: “There are a few.”

Progress on Assad, division over Syrian opposition

Foreign ministers from more than a dozen countries, including Russia, the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other European and Middle Eastern powers, will also hold talks in New York on Friday in an effort to hammer out differences between the various nations on ending the bloody Syrian conflict.

But diplomats have warned expectations of a breakthrough are low, despite some progress having already been made on the most difficult sticking point in the talks – the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

They said Russia had indicated it had no problem with the eventual ouster of Assad at the end of a transition period, though it would not admit that publicly.

Divisions between the West and Russia over the future of Assad, a key Moscow ally, have been the main road block to a peace agreement. But the emergence of a shared commitment to defeating the IS group has governments believing they can sidestep their disagreements on the Syrian leader.

In the build-up to Friday’s talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged in a careful balancing act, seeking to keep both Assad’s main international backers and opponents on side.

He travelled to Moscow this week to assure the Kremlin that Washington is not seeking "regime change" in Syria, while on Thursday, Kerry met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at a New York hotel to reassure Assad's most implacable foe that the United States is not going soft on the Syrian strongman.

But despite the narrowing of differences, disagreements remain, as shown by the difficulties the five permanent council members were having agreeing on a resolution endorsing the Vienna road map.

Issues to be discussed at Friday’s meeting include a mechanism for monitoring of any future ceasefire and a lineup for an opposition delegation to negotiate with Assad’s government.

Western officials say a recent meeting in Saudi Arabia of opposition figures made significant headway in coming up with an opposition bloc.

But Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The Associated Press on Thursday that his country has seen "no lists we can agree upon" of Syrian opposition groups that should be included in peace negotiations, or of Syrian groups that should be considered terrorist organisations instead.

"Card-carrying members of al Qaeda do not satisfy the conditions that we set for members of the opposition," Zarif said, ruling out any affiliates of the extremist group. "The opposition should be serious, and it should be inclusive."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

 france24.com
18/12/15
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