US and Russia set to clash over Syria sanctions

US and Russia set to clash over Syria sanctions
Proposed sanctions on leading Syrian figures and entities over chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 could lead to a fresh clash between the US and Damascus' key backer, Russia.
3 min read
28 February, 2017
The US will team up with allies the UK and France against Russia [AFP]

Russia and the US are set to clash at the UN Security Council on Tuesday as Moscow prepared to veto a draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria.

The council will vote on a text drafted by the US, UK and France that would put 11 Syrians and ten entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN blacklist.

Russia has vowed to use its veto to block the measure, which would mark the seventh time that Moscow has resorted to its veto power to shield its Damascus ally.

"In terms of sanctions against the Syrian leadership, I think that now they are completely inappropriate," Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan.

"This would not help the negotiation process but would only interfere or undermine confidence," Putin said, adding that Russia "will not support any new sanctions in relation to Syria."

First clash?

The vote scheduled for 11:30am (4:30pm GMT) would mark the first major council action by the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who is seeking warmer ties with Russia.

UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the three countries were united in the view that those responsible for chemical weapons use must be held accountable.

Support for the resolution will send a "strong, clear message... that the international community means business on preventing the use of these abhorrent weapons", Rycroft said.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley was in Washington on Monday to join Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a White House lunch.

"How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?" she said on Friday following a closed-door council meeting on Syria.

"People have died by being suffocated to death. That's barbaric."

The vote would see the Trump administration joining old allies France and thes UK to confront Russia over its support for Syria.

Peace talks

Russia has meanwhile called for terrorism to be included on the agenda of UN-sponsored peace talks on Syria in Geneva.

Moscow wants the issue added to an agenda which for the moment focuses on three "baskets" or areas: governance, constitution and elections. 

"Definitely yes," deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters when asked if terrorism should be included.

"Terrorism is a priority. The fight against terrorism is a priority and it should be on the agenda, along with other issues that were suggested that are contained in (UN Security Council) resolution 2254," which set the terms of reference for the UN talks, he said.

The Syrian regime's delegation chief, Bashar al-Jaafari, demanded at the weekend that all opposition factions present in Geneva condemn a suicide assault that killed dozens Saturday near Syria's third city of Homs.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura launched the latest round of talks last Thursday, but as in previous sessions there appears little prospect of the two sides meeting face-to-face.

Gatilov was cautious in his assessment of hopes for the latest Geneva talks. 

"Let's hope that in this round we will be able to move forward on the path towards a solution to the crisis in Syria," he told reporters.

Asked about his planned meeting with the opposition on Wednesday, he added: "I don't know what they are going to insist on, that is why we are going to meet them to know their position".