UN defeats rival resolutions to keep Syria cross-border aid
UNITED NATIONS-The Associated Press
The United Nations Security Council on Dec. 20 rejected rival resolutions that would continue the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders to more than 1 million Syrians every month in mainly rebel-held areas, leaving future deliveries in question as winter arrives.
A resolution co-sponsored by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait and supported by the U.N. humanitarian office that would have extended the mandate for deliveries for six months and cut one of four crossing points received 13 "yes'' votes in the 15-member council, but was vetoed by Russia, the Syrian government's closest ally, and China.
Their initial draft sought to add a new crossing point to the four existing points and extend the mandate for aid deliveries for a year. It was watered down in a failed compromise attempt, dropping a crossing point in Jordan and authorizing three others for six months.
A rival resolution sponsored by Russia and China, introduced only on Dec. 16, would have extended deliveries for six months and kept only two crossing points in Turkey. It received five "yes'' votes, six "no'' votes and four abstentions a defeat because it failed to get the required nine "yes'' votes for adoption.
Accusations and recriminations flew during and after the votes, with many council members calling it a sad day and vowing to try to find an acceptable compromise.
The current year-long mandate for aid deliveries through four border crossings Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa in Turkey, Al Yarubiyah in Iraq, and Al-Ramtha in Jordan expire on Jan. 10.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, the current council president, said she was "deeply and profoundly disappointed'' at the Russian and Chinese vetoes.
Russia's goal wasn't to save Syrian lives but wanting "to score political points'' at "a public spectacle'' and tarnish the Security Council's credibility, she said.
"What I can promise you is the council will continue to work every day throughout the holidays until Jan. 10 to come to a resolution to help the people in need in Syria,'' Craft said.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said Russia and China "gave no credible explanation for their veto or for the cynical attempt to score political points by tabling a second resolution that halved the number of crossings and halved the length of time.''
She said she would also be working "tirelessly'' to try to reach a compromise agreement "if everybody is willing to do so,'' but this will likely be done informally among members.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the council circulated on Dec. 16 that "the United Nations does not have an alternative means of reaching people in need in the areas in which cross-border assistance is being provided.''
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the humanitarian situation in northwest and northeast Syria "horrific," saying "it would be markedly worse without the cross-border operation."
"We very much hope a solution can be found in the days ahead,"" he said.
Germany, Belgium and Kuwait said in a joint statement that the Security Council failed the more than four million people in need of cross-border assistance.
They said their proposal was not based on politics but "the need on the ground for critical humanitarian access."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia countered that only one million Syrians are receiving cross-border aid, which was meant to be a temporary response to the eight-year Syrian conflict.
The situation on the ground has changed, he said, telling the council that the Jordan crossing point hasn't been used "for a lengthy period of time'' and the volume through the Iraqi crossing "is insignificant ... and could be done from Syria.''
He criticized the co-sponsors draft for seeking "political goals'' and said the Russia-China draft provided aid through the two Turkish crossings "where it remains necessary.''
China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun echoed that cross-border aid was meant to be temporary and the situation has changed on the ground.
''Syria has primary responsibility for improving the humanitarian situation in Syria and we should prioritize providing humanitarian assistance from inside of Syria," he said.
But Belgium's U.N. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve stressed that "no Syrian actor at present is in a position to provide humanitarian assistance to all outlying regions in the country where the needs are greatest.''
France's deputy ambassador Anne Gueguen added that 40 percent of medicine being provided for humanitarian needs in the northeast is going through the Iraqi crossing point and Iraqi authorities advocate for it being maintained.
After the defeat of the two resolutions, more sparks flew.
To the statement by Russia's Nebenzia that Moscow was motivated "purely by the humanitarian aspect,'' Britain's Pierce retorted "even by known standards this is breathtaking hypocrisy.''
Nebenzia countered that Moscow has "a different view of who was hypocritical under these circumstances,'' pointing to Germany and other sponsors of the vetoed resolution.
Russia was ready to provide humanitarian aid where it was vitally needed, he said.
"Who won today? Nobody,'' Nebenzia said. "Who lost? Those who lost are the Syrian people.''
No new meeting yet on drafting new Syria constitution
Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy for Syria told the Security Council on Dec. 20 that he won't convene another session of a 45-member body that is supposed to draft a new constitution for Syria until the government and opposition agree on an agenda.
Geir Pedersen, who is facilitating meetings of the constitutional committee in Geneva, said he hopes to consult the government in Damascus soon, as well as the opposition.
A second week-long round of Syrian talks aimed at starting negotiations ended on Nov. 29 without agreement.
Pedersen said the first meeting of the 150-member constitutional committee ended successfully, but there are several lessons from the second meeting with the smaller drafting body.
"The constitutional committee is and will remain fragile,'' he said, adding that any agenda must comply with the terms of reference and rules of procedure agreed to by both sides.
Pedersen said by video conference from Geneva that "the second round only underscored the need for a broader and comprehensive political process.''
Drafting a new constitution for Syria is a first step in what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes will be a road to peace.