A United Nations mediator has called on Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and a beleaguered opposition coalition to send envoys to Geneva on Nov 28 to resolve the seven-year-old civil war.
But if their show of optimism raised cynical eyebrows then, it seemed even less plausible by Friday, after the latest heated showdown over Syria at the United Nations.
There, Russia moved to thwart international attempts to salvage a UN-led probe into Assad’s and extremist groups’ use of chemical weapons to slaughter Syrian civilians.
A draft resolution put forward by Japan would have extended the UN-led Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for 30 days to allow time for negotiations on a wider compromise.
But Russia used its veto power to prevent adoption after 12 council members voted in favor of the measure, effectively ending the mission.
China abstained, while Bolivia voted no.
It was the 11th time that Russia has used its veto power to stop council action targeting its ally Syria.
“Russia proves they cannot be trusted or credible as we work towards a political solution in Syria,” she declared.
Then secretary of state John Kerry’s frequent but fruitless forays to hotel conference rooms in Vienna and Geneva to spar with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were much mocked at home.
But, despite the undeniable progress that a US-led military coalition has made against the Islamic State group’s Syrian strongholds, Putin has remained loyal to Assad.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert shared Haley’s disgust with Russia’s opposition to the UN chemical weapons probe, saying: “We were very disappointed.” “We know that Russia one again prioritised protecting the Assad regime,” she said, while insisting this was no death knell for the broader peace process.
“There are a lot of areas where we don’t see eye-to-eye with Russia, but there are some areas where we do see eye-to-eye.” .
“So the secretary and the president and Mr Lavrov and Vladimir Putin have agreed to try to put together another one,” she said.
“If we can do that, and we can find this area of agreement, it could potentially bring in more aid and save lives and try to get Syria more stable.” But, asked if Russia could be a US partner in saving the Geneva process toward a settlement, she admitted: “I don’t know.” Many observers scoff at that idea, and most doubt that Putin, having risked Russian troops and planes to save Assad, would now encourage a peace process that would see him step down.
“The Russians are doing everything they can to drain Geneva of its substance and replace it with a process they control,” said Joseph Bahout, Middle East scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
For Bahout, the Trump-Putin joint statement was meant to paper over the cracks in the breakdown, but the bitter row at the United Nations paints a clearer picture of relations.
Even the ceasefire zone, and its application, has been a source of tension. The United States saw it as a sign that Russia is amenable to countering the Iranian role.
But when US officials talked this up as a success, Lavrov responded sharply that the ceasefire deal had nothing to do with concern about Iranian forces.
“Since then, the climate has worsened,” he told AFP. “What’s happening at the UN is in part a result of those tensions.”