In Multipolarity

By Edith Lederer,  Associated Press feature ‘The Big Story’, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016   (and further below, reports on four-hour meeting on Syria by nine foreign ministers, including U.S. and Russia)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia’s UN ambassador says that tensions with the United States are probably the worst since the 1973 Mideast war.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, speaking on Oct. 13, 2016 (Seth Wenig, Associated Press)

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, speaking on Oct. 13, 2016 (Seth Wenig, Associated Press)

But Vitaly Churkin said on Friday that Cold War relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. more than 40 years ago were different than U.S.-Russia relations today. “The general situation I think is pretty bad at this point, probably the worst … since 1973,” he said in an interview with three journalists at Russia’s Un ited Nations Mission.

But Churkin said that “even though we have serious frictions, differences like Syria, we continue to work on other issues … and sometimes quite well.”

That wasn’t the case generally during the Cold War. When Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar in October 1973, the Mideast was thrown into turmoil. And according to historians, the threat of an outbreak of fighting between the Soviet Union, which backed the Arabs, and the United States, Israel’s closest ally, during the Yom Kippur War was the highest since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Churkin said there are “a string of things” that have brought U.S.-Russian relations to their current low point. “It’s kind of a fundamental lack of respect and lack of in-depth discussions” on political issues, he said.

Churkin pointed to the U.S. and NATO deciding to build their security “at the expense of Russia” by accepting many East European nations formerly in the Soviet bloc as NATO members, and the United States pullout from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001.

One of “the greatest provocations” during President George W. Bush’s administration was the 2008 NATO summit, which decided that Ukraine and Georgia should become NATO members, he said.

Most important, he said, was the conflict that erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, weeks after a former Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president was chased from power by massive protests. Churkin called it “a coup” supported by the United States. Soon after, Russia annexed [sic] Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which has led to Western sanctions against Moscow.

Ties between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated further in the past month after the collapse of a cease-fire in Syria and intensified bombing on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian aircraft, and U.S. accusations that Russia is meddling in the U.S. presidential election next month. But despite the strained relations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland, in an effort to look at possibilities for restoring a cease-fire.

Churkin also pointed to other positive achievements in U.S.-Russia relations even at this low point. He cited agreements in the UN Security Council in recent years supported by Moscow and Washington, even on Syria — allowing cross-border aid deliveries without government approval and establishing a team of experts to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in the country. He also cited council resolutions to combat terrorism.

António Guterres, a former UN high commissioner for refugees, is nominated to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general (UN photo)

António Guterres, a former UN high commissioner for refugees, is nominated to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general (UN photo)

The United States and Russia were also key players in last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, and last week they agreed on the Security Council’s nomination of former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the next UN secretary-general, which Churkin said was “maybe the best success of the Security Council in the last five years.” Guterres was elected by acclamation Thursday by the General Assembly.

Churkin said Russia would like to normalize relations with the United States.

“If the change of administration is going to help, that’s fine,” he said. But even if President Barack Obama stayed for another term, which he is barred from doing, “we would be pushed to trying to get back to normal in our relations.”


‘Interesting ideas & candid discussion’: Syria talks positive, but no breakthrough

RT.com, Oct 15, 2016

Foreign ministers of nine countries plus the UN special envoy to Syria attend four-hour meeting in Switzerland on Oct 15, 2016 (Reuters)

Foreign ministers of nine countries plus the UN special envoy to Syria attend four-hour meeting in Switzerland on Oct 15, 2016 (Reuters)

International talks on Syria in Lausanne, Switzerland have ended after four hours of discussion behind closed doors. No breakthrough has apparently been reached. Participants have agreed to further work on solving the crisis, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that there are “some interesting ideas” that have been discussed.

“There are some ideas that we discussed today in a circle of pretty powerful countries, that might affect the situation,” Lavrov said following the Saturday meeting in the Swiss city, as cited by RIA Novosti. The talks’ participants have agreed to continue working on the issue in the following days, “hoping for certain agreements” to help move the peace process forward, he added.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who convened the meeting,  told reporters there was consensus on a number of options that could lead to a ceasefire but conceded that there had been some tense moments during Saturday’s talks.

“I would characterize this as an example of what we wanted, which was a brainstorming and a very candid first-time discussion,” he said. “A number of ideas came from a number of different ministers, as we hoped, that might be able to shape some different approaches.”

Syria and the U.S. apparently found Saturday’s talks to be positive. Kerry said that despite some tense moments, the meeting was “very candid,” as cited by Reuters [report below]. The Syrian side commented by saying a broad consensus had been reached on a “number of possibilities” for a ceasefire in the country.

The negotiators also urged for a political process to start in Syria “as soon as possible,” Russia’s top diplomat said, adding that Moscow wholly supports this initiative.

Speaking to Turkish media following the Swiss talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara stands for “direct talks” between the Syrian government and what he called a “moderate opposition.” He also stressed that fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) must continue in the region, even after the ceasefire is applied in Syria.

The foreign ministers of nine countries took part in Saturday’s talks at Lausanne’s luxury Beau-Rivage hotel. In addition to the U.S. and Russia, the foreign ministers of Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, UAE and Turkey attended. The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was also present at the talks.


Syria talks in Lausanne end without breakthrough

By Lesley Wroughton and Alexander Winning, Reuters, Saturday, Oct 15, 2016
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – Syria talks convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday evening failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year.

Kerry was seeking a new path to peace after failing to secure a ceasefire in direct talks with Moscow, one of Syria’s key backers, amid mounting international outrage over the Russian and Syrian bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

Kerry told reporters there was consensus on a number of options that could lead to a ceasefire, but conceded that there had been some tense moments during Saturday’s talks.

“I would characterize this as an example of what we wanted, which was a brainstorming and a very candid first-time discussion,” he said. “A number of ideas came from the number of different ministers as we hoped that might be able to shape some different approaches.”

But the meeting failed to come up with a joint statement or a shared vision on how to move forward.

Lavrov, who had said he had “no special expectations” for Saturday’s meeting, said ministers had discussed several “interesting ideas”, without elaborating.

MEETING IN LONDON

Europe was not represented at the meeting, held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Kerry and foreign ministers of like-minded nations planned to meet in London on Sunday to discuss Syria.

Kerry said parties to the Lausanne talks would contact each other on Monday to follow up.

Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked on a number of ideas.

Although no breakthrough had been expected on Saturday, a senior U.S. official said before the meeting that the regional format to the talks could be the basis of a new process.

However, a former Western envoy in Syria told Reuters: “I don’t understand (why) the Americans are asking the Russians to talk again. They have made zero concessions. Do the Americans believe Moscow was shaken by the break-off last week and will change behavior now?”

Separately, a Western diplomat in Lausanne said the meeting appeared ill-prepared and vague in its goals, and the list of invitees had been clarified only at the last moment.

Earlier, Kerry met separately with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir and with Lavrov to discuss the logistics of the meeting.

It was the first meeting between Kerry and Lavrov since the collapse of a second attempted ceasefire in September. The impending end of the Obama administration is likely to mean a hiatus in U.S. diplomacy while his successor, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, takes up the reins.

ACCUSATIONS

At the same time, pressure is rising for a halt to a ferocious, three-week-old Syrian government offensive to capture the eastern zone of the city of Aleppo, where the United Nations says 275,000 civilians still live and 8,000 rebels are holding out against Syrian, Russian and Iranian-backed forces.

Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations, as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives.

Syria and Russia counter that they are only targeting militants in Aleppo and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores of Syrian troops fighting Islamic State insurgents, over which the United States has expressed regret.

A senior rebel commander said on Friday that Syrian government forces would never be able to capture Aleppo’s eastern sector, but a military source said the operation was going as planned.

The United Nations has said food, fuel and medicine are running out in eastern Aleppo and there will be no rations to distribute from the start of next month.

*****

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