Russia calls new U.N. Syria aid-access draft a "non-starter"
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan have presented to the five permanent U.N. Security Council members a draft resolution demanding full access for aid workers across Syria, which was quickly dismissed by Russia as a "non-starter."
Western diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the council's five veto powers - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - received the draft resolution on Thursday but have yet to hold substantive discussions on it.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin made clear on Friday Moscow dislikes the draft.
"It's a non-starter, it's very disappointing, even worse than some texts we saw a couple of months ago," Churkin told Reuters at a Russian reception at U.N. headquarters to screen the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"Why they even bothered to circulate it or produce it - I'm really surprised, I'm really surprised," he said.
When asked what aspects of the draft resolution he didn't like, Churkin replied: "Everything, it's a non-starter."
Diplomats said the resolution condemns rights abuses and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and urges an end to sieges, demilitarization of schools and hospitals and lifting bureaucratic obstacles that hinder aid deliveries.
It also "expresses its intent" to impose sanctions on individuals and entities obstructing humanitarian assistance and if certain demands in the resolution are not met within a specific time period, the diplomats said.
Another Western diplomat said the Russians were trying to avoid a swift meeting on the draft, adding that the Russians appeared to be "trying to postpone it as much as possible."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Thursday that it was "critical that the Security Council move forward in order to signal to the regime that humanitarian access is not optional, that it is required."
"We do support a humanitarian resolution ... and we're hopeful that something like that can be achieved," she said.
With a second round of Syria peace talks set to resume in Geneva next week, some Western diplomats said that they might not rush to put the resolution to vote immediately to avoid disrupting the fragile negotiations in Switzerland.
RUSSIAN AND CHINESE VETOES
U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos will brief the Security Council next Thursday on the problems she faces getting access to Syria's neediest.
Churkin on Wednesday called for more work to improve aid access before considering a resolution. He warned that any draft resolution on Syria aid access would likely "politicize the problem" and would simply be aimed at "whipping up the nerves.
Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria's government and threatening it with possible sanctions.
"This issue is not about the politicization of the humanitarian effort, it's about the introduction of humanity into the political effort," David Miliband, president of aid organization International Rescue Committee, told Reuters on Friday.
Some 48 former top diplomats published an open letter in the Financial Times and the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta urging Russian President Vladimir Putin not to block the resolution. The signatories include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, billionaire philanthropists George Soros and Richard Branson and former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The United Nations says some 9.3 million Syrians, nearly half the population, need help and U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape have slowed delivery of humanitarian assistance to a trickle.
Western members of the 15-member Security Council have been considering a resolution on aid for almost a year. After months of talks, the council eventually adopted a non-binding statement on October 2 urging more access to aid.
But that statement produced only a little administrative progress, such as visas for aid workers and clearance for convoys. No action has been taken on big issues such as the demilitarization of schools and hospitals, and access to besieged and hard-to-reach communities.
After a first round of peace talks in Geneva last week initially failed to reach a deal on aid to some 2,500 Syrians trapped in the besieged Old City of Homs, Western and Arab nations planned to press for a legally binding resolution. But overnight a possible deal on Homs appeared to be emerging.
Syria evacuated three busloads of civilians from a besieged area of Homs on Friday, the first stage of a planned three-day humanitarian ceasefire in the city which has suffered some of the worst devastation of Syria's three-year conflict.
Miliband said the Homs evacuation "offers a crumb of comfort to (the Syrians), but a crumb is a long way from a whole loaf."
The United Nations says that well over 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 136,000 have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Chizu Nomiyama)