US, Russia At Odds Over Syria’s Planned ‘Election’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 14, 2014 | 4:43am EDT

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

( – Differences among U.N. Security Council members over the Syrian civil war looked as stark as ever Tuesday, with Russia and the U.S. differing over presidential elections planned for next month, and Russia and France putting forward rival resolutions.

The Obama administration reiterated its opposition to the June 3 elections, which White House press secretary Jay Carney said “represent a sham democratically.”

He told a briefing that holding elections now was also “entirely inconsistent” with the Geneva Communique – a June 2012 document drawn up by world powers calling for the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria on the basis of “mutual consent” between regime and opposition representatives.

But in New York, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin rejected that “interpretation” of the Geneva document.

“The Geneva Communique does not bar presidential elections in Syria,” he declared.

President Bashar Assad is running for a third, seven-year term in the poll, in a contest against two minor candidates. Assad “won” elections in 2000 – following the death of his father and predecessor Hafez Assad – claiming 99.7 percent of the vote; and again in 2007, claiming 97 percent of the vote. In both cases he was the sole candidate.

The depth of the Syria crisis was underscored Tuesday by the resignation of joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, Lakdar Brahimi, 21 months after he was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Announcing the decision, Ban laid the blame on the Security Council and other countries with influence.

“That [Brahimi’s] efforts have not received effective support from the United Nations body that is charged with upholding peace and security, and from countries with influence on the Syria situation, is a failure of all of us,” he said.

After Brahimi briefed the Security Council for the final time before his May 31 departure, Churkin told reporters that Russia had introduced a new draft resolution, dealing mostly with the humanitarian situation but also aimed at moving the political process ahead.

But France is also introducing a new Syria resolution, in its case calling for the Assad regime to be referred to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday accused the regime of having used toxic agents, including chlorine gas, on at least 14 occasions since last October, up to as recently as several weeks ago.

Speaking at the French Embassy in Washington after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department, Fabius said this alleged further chemical weapons use strengthened calls for ICC referral.

“This is another argument to add to the case we are making that the situation in Syria must be brought to the International Criminal Court.”

Fabius said France would seek a vote on its draft text in the coming days.

Asked about the ICC resolution, Churkin ducked a direct question about whether Russia would veto it, but hinted as much, saying of the French proposal, “we don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“There are different views in the Security Council about the situation in Syria, so let’s not exacerbate that by doing things which definitely will have the effect of exacerbating those differences,” he said.

With support from China, Russia has vetoed three Syria resolutions since the conflict broke out three years ago. By wielding its veto threat it also succeeded in getting others watered down.

Back in Washington Kerry paid credit to the outgoing Syria envoy, taking issue with the notion that he had failed.

“It’s a great mistake here to place on a peacemaking effort the notion that the failure of an envoy or a special envoy, or the inability to be able to reach agreement is the fault of the envoy. It’s not,” he said in a joint appearance with his Italian counterpart.

Kerry blamed the regime for the current impasse.

When the parties last met – in Geneva last February – he said, “the opposition consistently tried to adhere to the rules of talking about the future with respect to a transition. The Assad regime never did.”

“And so this represents a continuation of the stubborn clinging to power of a man who is willing to drop barrel bombs on his people, to gas them, to shell artillery on innocent civilians, to starve people in their homes, and somehow claim a right to be able to run a country,” Kerry continued.

“I don’t think the civilized world is going to stand for that, and so there will be a continuation of an effort to put pressure on Mr. Assad.”

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