Tensions Between U.S. and Russia Bleed Over Into Syrian Peace Effort

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/syriafreedom/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/syriafreedom/

Tensions between Russia and the United States have been building over Russia’s upcoming annexation of the Crimean region in Ukraine, a move that is drawing harsh international criticism and threats of increasingly harsh sanctions and isolation. Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that despite the international disagreement, both countries have, for the most part, been able to continue dealing with other important issues. “On Iran, on Syria, on other things we’ve been able to cooperate, even as we have some … serious differences on other things,” said Kerry Tuesday. Now though, that optimism seems to have run out when faced with the new reality. Wednesday saw both Syria and Russia deeply critical of the U.S.’s latest policy decision to freeze operations at the Syrian embassy in Washington and its consulates in other locations.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the move a violation of international diplomatic conventions via a state TV broadcast, according to Reuters, and Moscow in turn said that it was “worrying and disappointing.” The overall chill in the U.S. and Russian relationship is perhaps leaking over into peace efforts in Syria, with Russian Foreign Ministry saying that the U.S. was pushing for a “regime change” with this latest decision. In the past, the United States and especially Secretary John Kerry have made no secret of the insistence on the removal of Syria’s current President Bashar al-Assad.

Daniel Rubinstein, Special Envoy for Syria, gave his statement Wednessday, explaining that after the Syrian Embassy had announced it would be ending “its provision of consular services” and in light of “the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people, we have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States.”

When asked if the Syrian Foreign Ministry had any grounds to stating that the closure was “illegal and arbitrary and a violation of the Vienna Convention,” Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said she disagreed and “completely refute all of those claims,” adding that the U.S. was “abiding by not only the law but every aspect of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” When asked if the U.S. was “renouncing” its role as “co-sponsor” for Syrian peace talks as Russia has claimed, Ms. Psaki said, “That is absolutely false.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of putting an “aim of regime change in Damascus … over the task of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons and helping millions of Syrians who have suffered from the armed conflict.”

However, on the chemical weapon front, progress has been made, according to The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with almost half of Syria’s stockpile removed at 49.3 percent of total chemicals removed. The New York Times reported that the OPCW had also noted a schedule change, with the timetable to be moved back after deadlines were missed earlier, but adding that the Syrian government and both Russia and the U.S. were committed to continued efforts.

Wednesday also saw the release of the Human Rights Council’s Oral Update on “the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” which noted human rights violations that have been emphasized by other international organizations, including unlawful killings, torture, sexual and gender based violence, death and abuse of children, attacks such as barrel bombs with unlawful civilian casualties, and many other items.

The statement reads that, “Compassion does not and should not suffice” and demands a “negotiated political solution” adding that, “Among victims, the need for accountability is deeply-rooted in the desire for peace.”

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