India votes in UNSC for West-sponsored resolution on Syria; abstains on Russian motion

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The United Nations headquarters is seen during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly high-level debate, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, U.S., September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

India voted for a UN Security Council resolution sponsored by Western countries on continuing a passage for aid to reach parts of civil war-ravaged Syria and abstained on a counter-motion proposed by Russia, both of which failed to pass because of vetoes.

The vetoes on Friday of competing resolutions on sending humanitarian aid through Turkey to rebel-controlled areas in Syria using the Bab al-Hawa border crossing snaps a lifeline for 4.1 million people.

The dispute in the Council centred on how long and how to extend the mandate that expires on Sunday for using the crossing and it brought to the fore again the uncompromising polarisation at the UN sharpened by the Ukraine war.

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The first resolution proposed by Norway and Ireland calling for a 12-month extension of the Council mandate for sending UN aid through the border was vetoed by Russia.

It showed Moscow’s isolation with even China abstaining, while the other 13 members voted for it.

Next, a Russian resolution to extend the mandate for only six months was shot down by a triple veto by the United States, Britain and France.

Only China voted with Russia for the resolution, while the other ten countries abstained.

India did not speak at the Council meeting to explain its position.

But Kenya’s Permanent Representative Martin Kimani speaking on behalf of India and the other nine non-permanent members of the Council said that they supported a 12-month extension of the arrangement for using the border crossing.

He said the ten countries wanted unity in the Council for the Syrian people.

Russia has in principle opposed any aid to the Syrian people that bypasses the government of its ally Bashar al-Assad, although under international pressure it has allowed assistance to be ferried under UN auspices through the Turkish Bab al Hawa border crossing – and was again willing to allow it for six more months.

Its earlier vetoes had shut down deliveries through Iraq and Jordan, and from another point on the Turkish border, which been in a 2014 resolution setting up the aid programme.

The people trapped in the rebel-held areas depend on the sole remaining border crossing for international aid that includes food, medicine, emergency nutrition for children and, even, blankets for winter.

The Western countries, with the backing of the other seven non-permanent members, insist on a 12-month extension asserting that it was essential for effective planning and logistics.

Norway’s Permanent Representative Mona Juul said that as a compromise the resolution proposed by her country and Ireland had provided for two segments of six-month extensions.

The second extension was conditional on there being no opposition to it.

US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the Ireland-Norway draft “an extreme compromise” and said that it was “a life-and-death issue and, tragically, people will die because” of Russia’s veto.

Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitri Polyanskiy countered that his resolution for the six-month extension did provide for the continuation of the mandate and it contained all that Thomas-Greenfield wanted.

Expressing his opposition to the Ireland-Norway resolution, he said that it ignored the interests of Damascus – meaning the al-Assad government.

He also referred to some of the territories held by the Islamic State and said sarcastically, “As for the terrorists who got entrenched in Idlib, you have got opportunities to provide for them anyway”.

United Arab Emirates Permanent Representative Lana Zaki Nusseibeh proposed a compromise of a nine-month extension, which was backed by Brazil, Kenya and Ghana.

Ireland’s Permanent Representative suggested suspending the session to hold more negotiations following the suggestion and it was accepted by Brazil’s Permanent Representative Ronaldo Costa Filho, who is the Council president for this month.

Last year, US President Joe Biden spoke directly to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to get a similar resolution passed.

Asked by reporters after the Council meeting if Biden would again reach out to Putin, Thomas-Greenfield said, “At the moment we don’t plan any”.

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