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US, Russia Pledge to Unblock Syria Talks

  • Lisa Schlein

U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (L) and UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrive for a trilateral meeting with Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov during the second round of negotiations between the Syrian g

U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (L) and UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrive for a trilateral meeting with Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov during the second round of negotiations between the Syrian g

The United States and Russia have pledged to help unblock stalled negotiations between Syria's two warring sides, International Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday.

The U.N. mediator met for two hours Thursday with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

Brahimi said he briefed the two officials in great detail about the status of the talks, which remain deadlocked after three weeks of negotiations.

"They have kindly reaffirmed their support for what we are trying to do and promised that they will help both here and in their capitals and elsewhere to unblock the situation for us because until now we are not making much progress in this process," he said.

While describing the meeting as useful, Brahimi acknowledged he does not expect any "miracles." He said the two parties are not budging from the positions they have staked out since the start of the talks.

Government stays firm

Brahimi added that the Syrian government delegation remains firm in it determination to deal with the problems of violence and terrorism.

This runs counter to the opposition's insistence on discussing moves toward creating a transitional government in Syria. The government dismisses this out of hand, as it broaches the idea of removing President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Brahimi said the negotiations are difficult and will not be resolved any time soon. He said the objective of the talks is to put these extremely complex issues on the table as soon as possible and work toward ways of addressing them in the future.

Still, he said it is critical the talks move ahead speedily as the people of Syria continue to be caught in a dark tunnel with no light at the end visible. He said the one positive development during the three weeks of negotiations has been the delivery of aid to thousands of people in Homs and the evacuation of hundreds of civilians trapped in the city.

Brahimi said he hopes the Syrian talks helped move this process along. But, he added all credit for aid going into Homs belongs to U.N. colleagues on the ground, who negotiated the truce with government and opposition forces.

As for the stalled peace negotiations here in Geneva, Brahimi said he hopes for the best, but is prepared for the worst.

"Failure is always staring at us in the face," he said. "As far as the United Nations is concerned, we will certainly not leave one stone unturned if there is a possibility to move forward. If there is not, we will say so."

UN pleas on aid

Meanwhile U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos says getting aid to desperate civilians in Syria should not be matter of controversy or politics.

Amos briefed the Security Council Thursday on what she says is modest progress in getting help to civilians This includes evacuating more than 1,400 people from the city of Homs.

A brief "humanitarian pause" last week gave women, children, and old men a chance to get out.

Amos said the Homs agreement shows what can be done. But she said it cannot be a model because aid workers came under fire.

She said both sides in Syria's civil war are breaking international law by failing to protect civilians. Amos said three-million Syrians are stuck in hard to reach places and that their lives are hanging in the balance.

Aleppo violence

Thursday's discussions come amid reports of violence in Aleppo and along the Syrian-Lebanon border. Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that government airstrikes killed at least 51 people Wednesday in Aleppo, and that more than 230 people have been killed daily since a barrel-bomb campaign began around January 22.

Lebanon's Future TV is also reporting that 300 Syrian refugees have fled the region around Yabroud, a town along the Lebanese border, for the mostly Sunni town of Arsal inside Lebanon.

According to BBC and Reuters, Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah allies are battling rebel fighters in the mountainous border region in what is being dubbed the "Battle for Qalamoun." Syrian planes have been supporting the operation, which has pushed more refugees over the border into neighboring Lebanon.

Locals complain that even the road out of Yabroud is now being bombed in what Riad Kahwaji of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis calls a very strategic batlle for both Damascus and Hezbollah.

Draft resolutions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia is presenting two draft U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria.

The first is Russia's version of a resolution to bring greater humanitarian aid. Lavrov told reporters in Moscow Thursday the second addresses fighting terrorism, which the Syrian government has stressed in the peace talks so far.

"Facts confirming an increasing number of threats from an increasing number of terrorist groups are well-known," Lavrov said. "We are very concerned by them. That's why we presented to the Security Council — or in this particular case we've just started consultations — one more draft resolution on fighting terrorism in Syria."

Russia objected to a Western-Arab draft resolution on humanitarian aid as one-sided against President Bashar al-Assad's government, and said it would use its veto power to block the measure.

A humanitarian ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs was extended on Thursday for three more days, the city's governor told Reuters.

"The ceasefire has been extended for an additional three days, starting from today, to allow the evacuation of the remaining civilians," Talal al-Barazi, the governor, said by telephone.

Mortar and rocket fire and sniping have repeatedly forced suspension of the operation, and al-Barazi added that a total of 1,400 people had been evacuated from the besieged Old City since last Friday, when the U.N.-brokered ceasefire began.

Images from Syria

Edward Yeranian, Reuters contributed to this report.

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