Russia sought UN backing for Syria cease-fire, but failed

Russia has sought U.N. Security Council backing for its agreement with Turkey aimed at establishing a cease-fire in Syria’s northwest

UNITED NATIONS — Russia sought U.N. Security Council backing Friday for its agreement with Turkey aimed at establishing a cease-fire in Syria’s northwest, but diplomats said the United States called it premature and several European countries wanted to amend Moscow’s proposed statement welcoming the deal.

Russia’s proposed press statement, obtained by The Associated Press, would have encouraged all parties “to fully implement the cease-fire.”

It also would have reaffirmed the council’s strong commitment to Syria’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” and reiterated that there can be no military solution to the nine-year Syrian conflict — only “an inclusive Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political process under U.N. auspices.”

The agreement was announced Thursday after a six-hour meeting in Moscow between the president of Turkey, which supports the opposition, and the president Russia, the Syrian government’s key ally. Fighting stopped at midnight Thursday and the skies over Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, were completely free of Russian and Syrian government warplanes Friday.

The truce, at least temporarily, halted a terrifying three-month air and ground campaign by Russian-backed Syrian forces that killed hundreds and sent 1 million people fleeing toward the Turkish border. The deal essentially froze the conflict lines in Idlib and did not require Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to roll back significant military gains.

There are concerns the cease-fire might not hold for as long as previous truces that collapsed, leading to waves of violence.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said he called for closed Security Council consultations on the agreement because its meetings last month were always “emergency and emergency and emergency, and this time we had an opportunity to discuss some positive developments.”

At the closed meeting, he said, “members of the Security Council to various extents took note and welcomed the agreement.”

Nebenzia said Russia wanted to issue a press statement afterward, “but due to the position of one delegation it was not possible.”

Several diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed, said that was a reference to the United States. But they also said Russia did not want to negotiate on amendments proposed by France and the United Kingdom.

British Ambassador Karen Pierce wouldn’t comment on the discussions but said: “This is all about the proof of the pudding being in the eating.”

“It is a potentially helpful development to have this cease-fire and I don’t want to underestimate the efforts, particularly that Turkey’s put in,” she said.

But Pierce said there are still a lot of questions about how the agreement will work: “Who will monitor it? What is happening west of Aleppo? And critically has the Syrian government formally signed up, and will the Syrian government be following the provisions of the cease-fire?”

Germany’s ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, echoed Pierce, adding: “What we are concerned about is the millions and millions of people who are suffering there and to see that the cease-fire now leads to safe zones where the people can go back to and they can survive.”

He said Germany and Britain are prepared to provide additional aid “but for this we have to have a cease-fire that is real.”

Nebenzia expressed hope that the cease-fire will be durable, but he said the agreement “still does not exempt terrorists from being targeted.”

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun, an ally of Russia, expressed hope that the “fight against terrorism, especially foreign terrorist fighters,” will continue.

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