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Defense

A Tougher Stance on Syria? Putin Might Have Something to Say About That

Congress is pushing for greater humanitarian access, but U.S. efforts could hit a familiar roadblock: Russia.

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Senators are pressing for President Obama to turn over a strategy that would stem Syria's humanitarian crisis.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Senators are pressing President Obama to develop a strategy to combat Syria's humanitarian aid crisis, but there's one problem: how to get around Russia.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that calls for Obama to submit a strategy to Congress that deals with combating Syria's humanitarian crisis and human-rights violations in the country and region.

 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Senate passage would "send a clear message to Obama administration that we need a new humanitarian strategy that includes concrete actions to increase pressure on [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]."

The United States has donated $1.7 billion aimed at helping those within Syria impacted by the civil war, and refugees in nearby countries, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The resolution, cosponsored by Rubio and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, also presses for the international community to back an increase in humanitarian-aid access and a decrease in various forms of violence, which is where things get a little tricky.

 

The U.N. Security Council, which includes the United States and Russia, passed a resolution earlier this year, which the Senate's bill backs, that calls for increased access for humanitarian aid and a decrease in violence and condemns al-Qaida backed activities in the country.

But an initial draft of the resolution was scrapped after Russia threatened to veto it. (Russia is one of five countries that have veto power on the council. The others are the United States, United Kingdom, France, and China.)

And Russia's U.N. ambassador stressed that the resolution doesn't pave the way for sanctions against the Syrian government overseen by Assad, which Russia supports.

Security Council members could take "further steps" if the resolution isn't complied with—as suggested by a recently leaked U.N. report—but those steps would have to be agreed to by the five permanent members.

 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told reporters last week that the United States will begin taking steps to make sure the resolution is being carried out. Asked about what those next steps could be, she said, "This is a consultation, there's nothing that I can do and that we can do unilaterally to make the council do what we want."

Russia has vetoed three Security Council resolutions since the start of Syria's Civil War, but officials have remained cautiously optimistic that the current tensions on Ukraine won't spill over.

Power did acknowledge that "it is no secret" that the U.S. and Russian perspectives "on this issue have been deeply divergent for a long time."

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