Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Russia and US clash over Syria

CHEMICAL WEAPONS:Moscow vetoed a resolution to punish several Syrian military officials and entities for using chlorine-filled barrels as bombs on at least three occasions

NY Times News Service, UNITED NATIONS

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on Tuesday speaks at UN headquarters in New York City in favor of a Security Council resolution to ban the supply of helicopters to Syria and to blacklist Syrian military commanders over accusations of toxic gas attacks.

Photo: Reuters

Russia and US President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday clashed for the first time in a vote at the UN Security Council as the Kremlin vetoed a measure backed by the US and its Western allies to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.

While the Russians had long signaled their intent to block the resolution, which was supported by dozens of countries, the clash offered insights into the big divisions that remain between the Kremlin and Trump, who has vowed to improve ties.

Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the council, blocked the measure. It was the Kremlin’s seventh Security Council veto in defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the war that has been convulsing his country for nearly six years.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Russia and China of putting “their friends in the [al-] Assad regime ahead of our global security” in her rebuke of the vetoes.

“It is a sad day on the Security Council,” Haley said after the vote. “When members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people, the world is definitely a more dangerous place.”

Diplomats said that Haley had insisted on putting the measure up for a vote this week, signaling a desire to take a tough stand on Russia.

In recent weeks, Haley has condemned what she called Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, vowed to maintain sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, in her Senate confirmation hearing, went as far as saying that Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria.

Her comments on Russia have sometimes contradicted the more conciliatory language of Trump, who has made clear his desire to increase cooperation with Russia. Haley, by contrast, has often echoed the talking points of the previous administration, as well as the concerns of Republicans in Congress who distrust the Kremlin.

The resolution, proposed by Britain and France months ago and endorsed by the US last week, would have imposed sanctions on a handful of Syrian military officials and entities for having dropped chlorine-filled barrel bombs on opposition-held areas on at least three occasions in 2014 and 2015, according to a UN panel.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov defended the veto, calling the resolution “politically biased” and asserting that Russia’s concerns about the draft language had not been addressed.

“This is railroading the draft by the Western troika,” he said.

Chlorine is banned as a weapon under an international treaty that al-Assad’s government signed in 2013 as part of the deal struck by the US and Russia to force him to dismantle his stockpile of the chemical munitions.

French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre said he welcomed the solidarity from Haley on the resolution.

“The Trump administration has a very clear position that is also our French position, the British position and the position of the majority of members of the Security Council,” he said. “We’re exactly on the same page.”

British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft said: “This isn’t even about Syria. It’s about taking a stand when children are poisoned.”

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin reinforced his opposition before the vote, telling a news conference on Tuesday while visiting Kyrgyzstan that any Security Council penalties on Damascus would complicate diplomatic efforts aimed at halting the war.

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