| UNITED NATIONS
UNITED NATIONS A meeting of U.N. Security Council foreign ministers on Thursday will focus on easing Syria's humanitarian crisis, but the absence of the top U.S., Russian and Chinese diplomats will likely highlight the body's paralysis over how to end the 17-month conflict.
As Syria spirals deeper into a civil war, the 15-member council is deadlocked over taking strong action after Russia and China blocked three Western-backed resolutions that criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and threatened sanctions.
France, which is council president for August, hoped the body could unite to deal with the aid crisis and convened Thursday's meeting, which will also be attended by ministers from Syria's neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan.
But less than half the council members are sending ministers, and of the permanent members -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- only French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his British counterpart, William Hague, will attend.
Diplomats said that aside from possible announcements of aid initiatives by individual countries on Thursday, there would be no further action on Syria from the Security Council.
"We wanted a resolution on humanitarian issues, but we faced a double refusal," said a French diplomatic source. "The United States and Britain believe we have reached the end of what can be achieved at the Security Council, and Moscow and Beijing said that such a resolution would have been biased."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision to miss Thursday's meeting highlights the American view that with Moscow standing by Assad, there is little value in further talks.
France decided to hold the ministerial meeting anyway as a "call to the international conscience and a plea to mobilize humanitarian issues without neglecting the political aspect."
French President Francois Hollande is under fire from critics for appearing passive on Syria in contrast with his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded the NATO military action that helped Libyan rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi last year.
More than 200,000 Syrians, and as many as 300,000, according to some aid groups, have poured out of Syria since the uprising against Assad's rule began last year, while up to 3 million are displaced. Turkey, which has seen the highest refugee influx, wants a solution to the problem.
STRONG WORDS, LITTLE ACTION
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged the United Nations earlier on Wednesday to protect displaced Syrians inside their country, but Assad dismissed talk of a buffer zone.
Creating a buffer zone for displaced Syrians would be difficult because a U.N. Security Council resolution would be needed to set up a no-fly zone to protect the area, and Russia and China would not approve such a move, diplomats said.
While the United States, France and other allies have said a no-fly zone was being studied, they have shown little enthusiasm for providing the military and aerial support needed for such a proposal. French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said a no-fly zone would not be discussed at Thursday's meeting.
"The council is deeply divided," Araud said on Wednesday. "Some countries ... are saying that Assad has to go, other countries, other members of the council are not on the same line and this division is very deep."
Kofi Annan, who served as U.N.-Arab League Syria mediator, blamed the Security Council impasse for hampering his six-month bid to broker peace and leading to his decision to step down. He will be replaced on Saturday by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.
Brahimi met informally with the Security Council on Wednesday and his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told reporters he had been in "listening mode" while he works out how to approach the Syria conflict.
"He doesn't have a master plan yet. He will develop his plans as he goes along," Fawzi said after the council meeting.
Brahimi will attend Thursday's meeting, but will not brief the council. The council is due to hear from Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and ministers from Turkey and Jordan.
Fabius said the meeting would look more at ways to help groups and individuals working on the ground and to alleviate pressure on Syria's neighbors.
"The discussions can help to move thinking forward," said one Western diplomat. "It's deeply frustrating obviously that we can't do more." (Editing by Peter Cooney)