Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi today in Dublin to discuss options for ending the Syrian conflict, said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While Clinton and Lavrov have discussed Syria several times in recent months, Brahimi’s involvement suggests today’s meeting may offer an opportunity for a breakthrough. Clinton and Lavrov, both in Dublin for a gathering of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, will meet with the UN envoy later today. Clinton met with Brahimi in Washington on Nov. 30.
The U.S. and Russia have been at an impasse over what kind of pressure to exert to end the fighting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels. More than 41,000 people have died since the uprising began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The U.S. has pushed for a resolution that would impose consequences, such as economic sanctions, for a failure to end the conflict and begin a planned transition to a unity government. Russia, an ally of Syria, has blocked UN sanctions and thwarted efforts to put pressure on Assad to stop the fighting and to prevent him and his inner circle from being part of any transitional government.
UN Security Council members and Arab states on June 30 backed a plan for a Syrian transition government that, under pressure from Russia and China, didn’t directly address Assad’s fate. The document, signed in Geneva, also added a Russia-backed provision opposing “further militarization of the conflict,” a criticism of Arab nations’ arms shipments to the opposition.
Russia, along with China, has vetoed three Security Council resolutions intended to pressure Assad’s government to halt the violence.
International efforts to mediate a peace agreement have stumbled over whether Assad must leave power before a transition can begin. The June communique from foreign ministers in Geneva declared a “firm timetable” for actions without setting any dates or deadlines.
Brahimi told the Security Council last week that Syria will become a “failed state” without a political solution to the crisis. A peace plan based on the Geneva agreement can succeed, he said.
“The building blocks for a political process to end the crisis in Syria already exist” in the roadmap outlined by the Action Group for Syria in Geneva, Brahimi said on Nov. 30.
Lavrov told Clinton in September at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok that Russia still sees the Geneva plan as the best chance for a peace deal that’s not imposed on the Syrian people by outside powers. The U.S. says the proposal is meaningless without penalties attached if the parties don’t comply.
The Geneva accord won’t work “if it doesn’t have teeth,” Clinton said on Sept. 9.
Yesterday, Clinton said a Syrian opposition coalition is moving closer to winning U.S. support. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the group trying to raise $60 billion for reconstruction if and when Assad is deposed, will attend a Dec. 12 meeting of the Friends of Syria in Marrakesh, Morocco. The coalition already has won recognition from the European Union and Gulf Arab countries.
“Now that there is a new opposition formed, we are going to be doing what we can to support that opposition,” Clinton told reporters in Brussels yesterday. At next week’s meeting “we will explore with like-minded countries what we can do to try to bring this conflict to an end.”
At the same time, the State Department is moving to designate one rebel group a foreign terrorist organization this month because of evidence it has ties to al-Qaeda. Members of the group, Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Support Front, have participated in some recent successful attacks on forces, said two U.S. officials who described the move on the condition of anonymity because it hasn’t happened yet.
The expected designation, reported Dec. 4 by McClatchy Newspapers, will freeze any assets group members have in the U.S. and bar Americans from providing material support to it. The officials said that while the blacklisting may hamper some rebel operations and underline the split between secular and Muslim extremist rebel factions, it’s necessary to prevent aid from going to allies of al-Qaeda.
Foreign ministers attending a two-day meeting of the 28-member NATO alliance on Dec. 4 approved the deployment of a missile shield along Turkey’s 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria. Satellite images have shown Syria may be readying chemical-weapons stockpiles for deployment.
Clinton told journalists today in Dublin that the U.S. has “made it very clear what our position is with regard to chemical weapons. And I think we will discuss that and many other aspects of what needs to be done in order to end the violence and begin that transition.”
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