Russia on Thursday proposed extending by six months a border crossing into Syria in a compromise at the Security Council, UN and diplomatic sources said, but the United States insisted that a full year was vital to save lives.
Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad and holds veto power at the Security Council, submitted a draft resolution to the 14 other members after a text by Ireland and Norway that would authorize one more year for the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border.
But Russia, which requested that a vote on its draft take place on Friday, suggested a “possible prolongation” after the six months, one source told AFP.
This is the first time Russia has raised the possibility of extending the authorization.
Previously, Moscow had wanted to stop cross-border aid, maintaining that continuing to provide it without Damascus’ approval violated Syria‘s sovereignty.
The United States has stressed in recent weeks that it viewed the renewal of the UN authorization as a test of possible cooperation between Moscow and Washington, after the June meeting in Geneva between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
During the meeting, Biden had pleaded for an extension of cross-border aid, which is set to expire Saturday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States wanted an extension by a full year.
“We’ve been very clear that continuing cross-border access, it’s a humanitarian imperative, and it’s a humanitarian imperative because millions of lives are on the line,” Price told reporters.
“We’ve heard very clearly from UN agencies and NGOs around the world that 12 months is critical to their work to reliably deliver aid while managing the lengthy procurement process,” Price said.
“What we find before us in the coming days is an opportunity for the Security Council and more broadly the international community to stand up and show that it is on the side of the beleaguered and food-insecure Syrian people.”
Security Council showdown
Relief supplies into Syria — where the UN estimates that 12.3 million people, or most of the population — need assistance, can enter only the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
The draft proposed by Ireland and Norway, two non-permanent council members in charge of the humanitarian component in Syria, provides for a one-year extension of the authorization to pass through Bab al-Hawa.
Renewing authorization “for at least 12 months is a red line” for the United States, Britain and France and several other members, a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Washington, London and Paris, all permanent council members, have veto power.
On Friday, the council must technically vote on the western resolution first before voting on Russia’s. A similar scenario occurred at the end of 2019, and Russia — along with China — had vetoed the western draft.
“Let the games begin,” another diplomat told AFP, also speaking anonymously, after the two drafts were announced. Until the vote, negotiations may still take place between council members in order to reach a consensus on a single text.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Russia has used its veto 16 times on related resolutions, and China 10 times.