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U.S., France Rebuke Russia At UN Over Syrian Escalation

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power confronts Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power confronts Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

Western powers batted down an attempt by Russia to focus United Nations efforts against Turkey in the escalating Syrian war, and called on Moscow to stick with plans for a truce in the region.

As the February 19 deadline for honoring a truce in Syria passed with little sign of compliance, Russia had presented a resolution to the UN Security Council aimed at stopping Turkey's cross-border shelling of Syrian Kurds.

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused Russia of trying to create a distraction from its own failure to stop bombing raids assisting the Syrian government's campaign to surround and recapture Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

"Rather than trying to distract the world with the resolution they just laid down, it would be really great if Russia would implement the resolution that's already agreed to," Power said, referring to a December UN resolution providing a road map for a Syria peace process.

"It's incredibly important that we have de-escalation," Power said after a closed-door council meeting on Russia's latest Syrian plan. "We have a resolution on the books. It's the right resolution. We've committed ourselves to it and we need Russia to do the same."

The Western powers said Moscow's backing of the Syrian ground war, even as it supposedly was negotiating a truce at the UN, is what caused an escalation of the conflict.

"We are facing a dangerous military escalation that could easily get out of control and lead us to uncharted territory," French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said.

Delattre said that Turkey's bid to intervene in the conflict was the "direct result of the brutal offensive in the north of Syria led by the Syrian regime and its allies."

"Russia must understand that its unconditional support to [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is a dead-end and a dead-end that could be extremely dangerous," he said.

He warned that a continued failure to honor the truce negotiated last week could lead to "a full regional conflagration."

In a sign that all sides no longer expect to return to peace negotiations any time soon, the UN's Special Envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura formally cancelled a round of talks that had been tentatively scheduled for February 25.

He told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that he cannot "realistically" get the government and opposition parties back to the table by then.

"We need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks," he said, even as a "cessation of hostilities" that he had negotiated a week earlier in Geneva died a quiet death on the battlefields of Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to be the only top leader to retain much optimism, saying on February 19 that he is still hopeful of negotiating a formal cease-fire through working groups established in Geneva a week ago.

En route to Jordan for talks about Syria, Kerry said negotiating a cease-fire is not easy, and tough and complex issues remain, but his talks with Russian counterparts on the working groups had been “serious and so far constructive.”

While rebuking Russia for going after Turkey at the UN, the White House announced that U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on February 19 and urged him to stop shelling Kurdish militias in the Syrian border region.

While Obama agreed with Erdogan that the Kurdish militias "should not seek to exploit circumstances in this area to seize additional territory," he urged Turkey to "show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area."

Turkey's shelling has exposed a deep rift between Washington and its NATO ally. While Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG militia forces in Syria as allies of outlawed terrorist groups in Turkey, the United States has worked with the YPG in a successful campaign to regain Syrian territory taken over the Islamic State group in 2014.

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, in fact, routed IS out the Syrian town of Shaddadeh, the militant group's last stronghold in the northeastern province of Hassakeh, after a fierce battle on February 19, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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