x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

US and Russia clash in UN over Syria

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that Syrians were entitled to defend themselves against a government that massacred its own people.

NEW YORK // The United States and Russia clashed over Syria at the United Nations yesterday as their diplomatic gridlock over the violence showed no sign of ending.

The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov condemned what he called the arming of the Syrian population and support for terrorists by foreign governments, which he did not name, in an attempt to overthrow the legal authorities in Damascus.

But the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said there was a legitimate revolt against a dictatorial regime, and Syrians were entitled to defend themselves against a government that massacred its own people.

Mr Lavrov told the UN Security Council: "Interference from outside using raw military force increases the illicit spread of arms, thus jeopardising stability in the region.

"Making hasty demands for regime change, imposing unilateral sanctions designed to trigger economic difficulties and social tensions, inducing the opposition to continue its confrontation with the authorities instead of promoting dialogue, making calls in support of armed confrontation and even for foreign military intervention, all of the above are risky recipes of geopolitical engineering that clearly result in the spread of conflict."

Mr Lavrov said the Syrian authorities "bear a huge share of responsibility for the current situation", he it should not be ignored that "for a long time now they have not been fighting unarmed men but combat units".

These included the Free Syrian army and "extremist groups, including Al Qaeda, which has lately committed a series of murderous terrorist acts".

"At this stage we shouldn't talk about who started it, but instead about realistic and feasible approaches to allow us to achieve a ceasefire."

The Russian foreign minister also singled out the rights of Christians in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world in an apparent reference to Moscow's own struggles against Islamists in the north Caucus region and fear that Islamists could replace the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.

"I know there are those who question whether Islamist politics can really be compatible with democratic principles," Ms. Clinton said. "Our policy is to focus less on what parties call themselves than on what they choose to do."

Mrs Clinton blamed Russia for vetoing two Security Council resolutions that condemned the violence of Damascus against the opposition.

Support for Syria's sovereignty does not mean "this council should stand silent when governments massacre their own people," she said.

"We reject any equivalence between premeditated murders by a government's military machine, and the actions of civilians under siege driven to self-defence".

While the US has said it would not arm the opposition, it has not condemned other countries that may already be doing so.

A western diplomat said Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have both called for arming the rebels, have already begun doing so, which they deny.

Mrs Clinton called Damascus's fresh assault on Idlb on Saturday cynical as it occurred as Mr Al Assad was meeting the UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Russia is a major arms supplier for Syria and one of Damascus's last remaining allies, although Mr Lavrov joked that he wished Moscow had as much influence on Syria as some people believe.

The US and Russio also clashed on Libya. Mr Lavrov accused the West and supporting Arab nations of "misleading the international community" and "manipulating UN Security Council decisions".

He said Nato had offered to maintain a no-fly zone over Libya authorised by the council, but "in reality engaged in massive bombings".

"It is sad that there has yet to be any investigation into civilian casualties caused by these bombings," Mr. Lavrov said. He called on the UN Secretary General to investigate.

Mrs Clinton dismissed Mr Lavrov's remarks on the Nato campaign, and said Libya's prime minister Abdurrahim El Keib had "forcefully and eloquently defended this Security Council's assistance on behalf of the aspirations of the Libyan people".

Mr El Keib had told Russia's representative that "this matter which concerns the blood of the Libyans should not be a matter of political propaganda by one country against another".

"I don't think there is any additional comment any of us need to add to the record as to the appropriate measures taken by the Security Council authorising action," Ms Clinton said.

Last week Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, also accused Libya of training rebels and extremists, including Al Qaeda, to be sent to fight in Syria.

"Is the export of revolution not turning into the export of terrorism?" he asked.

Separately yesterday, a meeting of the Middle East Quartet on the sidelines of the council meeting yielded no progress on the Palestinian-Israeli question, though calm was urged in response to the upsurge of violence in and around Gaza.

The US, Russia, the UN and the European Union welcomed an initiative by Jordan in seeking to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together and said that the Quartet would meet in Washington again next month.