Saturday 25 January 2020

Allies seek Syria ceasefire as Putin warns of 'chaos'

A soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Centre in Barzeh, near Damascus after it was attacked by US, British and French military strikes. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Centre in Barzeh, near Damascus after it was attacked by US, British and French military strikes. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Julie Allen

France will today lead a push involving the US and UK for a peaceful path forward in the Syrian crisis, proposing a United Nations-backed ceasefire.

The allies have produced a draft resolution that will be debated by the Security Council in New York.

The move came as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned further Western attacks on Syria would bring "chaos" to tense world relations

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said new sanctions would be imposed on Russian businesses that helped the Assad regime make and deploy chemical weapons.

The proposed UN resolution includes a request for an independent investigation into the toxic gas attacks that killed more than 40 civilians earlier this month, and safe passage for aid convoys and medical evacuations.

A fact-finding team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus to "begin work" on Saturday, according to the organisation's Twitter feed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo

The France-led initiative also demands that the Syrian government engage in peace talks "in good faith, constructively and without preconditions" and allows weapons inspectors into the country.

Francois Delattre, France's ambassador to the UN, said Syria's chemical weapons programme must be dismantled in a "verifiable and irreversible way". He said: "We must spare no effort to set up an international attribution mechanism, prevent impunity, and stop any repeat attempts by the Syrian regime."

Speaking to US media yesterday, Ms Haley defended the air strikes, warning that if action had not been taken, the US could also become a target of chemical attacks.

She also said a new raft of Russian sanctions would be outlined today by Steve Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary.

"They will be going directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to [Bashar] Assad and chemical weapons use," she told CBS News.

Western diplomats are preparing for diplomatic efforts to convince Russia to vote for a ceasefire. Moscow has used its veto 12 times to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said renewed peace efforts should "begin with a ceasefire that is really respected this time". A ceasefire in February failed.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was expected to strike a similar tone in a TV interview planned for last night.

Mr Macron is seeking to position himself as a broker between Russia and the Western powers. France has maintained regular contacts with Russia, despite heightened tensions.

Hours before the strikes, the French president discussed Syria in a phone call with Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart.

Mr Macron said he intended to go ahead with a planned visit to Moscow at the end of next month.

Next week, he is to become the first foreign leader to be hosted by Donald Trump on a state visit.

In Germany, the president warned against a "dangerous alienation" from Russia, as tensions grow between the country and the West.

Mr Putin warned about potential "chaos" in a phone conversation with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

A Kremlin statement said Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani agreed the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the multi-sided, seven-year conflict that has killed at least half-a-million people.

"Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the UN Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations," the Kremlin statement said.

The bombings, hailed by the US president as a success but denounced by Damascus and its allies as an act of aggression, marked the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and ally Russia, whose foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called them "unacceptable and lawless".

Irish Independent

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