US, Russia trade barbs as Security Council addresses Syria crisis

  • AP, United Nations
  • Updated: Sep 22, 2016 01:51 IST
A general view taken on September 16, 2016, shows the damaged Carlton Hotel in the government-held side of Aleppo's historic city centre. More than five years of war have turned the UNESCO-listed World Heritage site into a makeshift military barracks. (AFP Photo)

The United States and Russia blamed each other for Syria’s failing cease-fire on Wednesday, illustrating why a fractured UN Security Council has been unable to do anything to stop the Arab country’s civil war for more than five years .

In a public session originally envisioned to enshrine Syria’s September 9 truce, world powers were left to rue the possibility of the conflict entering an even darker phase after a series of attacks on humanitarian workers.

Washington, Moscow and the council’s other nations all sought to revive the US-Russian cease-fire deal, but seemed stuck on fundamental differences old and new: Who bears ultimate responsibility for the war and whose actions over the last days scuttled perhaps the best opportunity for peace?

Read | UN chief opens General Assembly with call to end Syria fighting

“Supposedly we all want the same goal. I’ve heard that again and again,” a clearly angry US secretary of state John Kerry told the council, referencing oft-repeated international objectives of a united, secular and democratic Syria. “But we are proving woefully inadequate in ... making that happen.”

Kerry outlined a litany of US complaints against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and its chief backer, Russia. He recited Moscow’s changing narrative over a deadly attack this week on an aid convoy that has included everything from claims of a justifiable counterterror strike to vehicles spontaneously combusting.

“To restore credibility, we must immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded,” he said.

The top American diplomat spoke just after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered his own set of barbs, underscoring the breakdown in trust in the 12 days since he and Kerry clinched a cease-fire agreement and a potential US-Russian military partnership against the Islamic State and al-Qaida. The former Cold War foes and much of the international community hailed the outcome, only to watch it unravel amid an upsurge in violence that even included an accidental US strike that killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers.

Unlike Kerry, who stressed the importance of Assad’s government ending military operations against rebels and allowing in unfettered aid, Lavrov said the US had the biggest responsibility.

“The key priority is to separate the opposition forces from the terrorists,” Lavrov said.

Responding to the wide criticism of the convoy airstrike, which American officials are blaming on Russia, Lavrov cited various possible explanations. Twenty civilians were killed when the Syrian Red Crescent convoy was struck.

Larvov and Kerry’s speeches laid bare their widely divergent views of a war that has killed up to a half-million people, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to emerge as a global terror threat. At one point, Kerry said listening to his Russian counterpart was like hearing about a “parallel universe.”

Read | Putin questions US commitment to Syria cease-fire

On Tuesday, the two diplomats met with more than a dozen Arab and European foreign ministers belonging to the International Syria Support Group, hoping to hold onto what might be salvageable from a week of relative calm in Syria.

“We are at a make-or-break moment,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, opening the session.

His peace envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said after the Security Council meeting: “Everything now depends on the renewal of the cessation of hostilities, and there is a chance ... and you will know it in two days time.”

De Mistura was referring to a follow-up meeting of the International Syria Support Group on Friday.

Also read | Diplomacy, not force, way to end brutal Syria conflict: Obama at UNGA

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