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.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government hold a rally in Damascus on Sunday. The regime on Thursday surrendered its third batch of chemical weapons in less than a week, according to an international watchdog agency.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
April 1, 2014, 4:37 p.m.

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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