Russia: Syrian vote isn't obstacle to peace talks

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia's U.N. ambassador insisted Wednesday that Syria's presidential election, which Bashar Assad is certain to win, is not an obstacle to a political settlement of the devastating war and urged the U.N. chief to quickly appoint a new envoy to revive stalled peace talks.

Vitaly Churkin criticized Western countries that believe Tuesday's election has ruled out any progress on the political front as "fundamentally flawed." He said it's unacceptable "after just two five-day rounds of talks to say things are so stalemated that there is no need to continue those negotiations."

Churkin said a replacement for U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is needed "to create conditions to move the talks between the government and opposition forward," stressing that there is no military solution to the three-year conflict which activists say has killed more than 160,000 people.

Brahimi resigned on May 13, marking a second failure by the United Nations and Arab League to end the war. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed Syria's opposition but especially Assad's government, the divided U.N. Security Council which has been impotent and feuding influential nations for failing to help Brahimi achieve a peace settlement.

Churkin said Brahimi was "heavily supported" by the U.N., not by the divided Arab League which expelled Syria, and Russia wants his replacement to be a U.N. envoy only, not a joint envoy. The secretary-general is reported to be considering this issue as well as a number of candidates from the Middle East and elsewhere.

Churkin held a wide-ranging news conference at the start of Russia's month-long presidency of the Security Council and expressed hope that members will adopt a resolution to speed up humanitarian aid in Syria, and a resolution demanding an immediate halt to deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine and the establishment of "humanitarian corridors."

But the council is deeply divided on both issues.

Churkin said Russia opposes a draft resolution proposed by Jordan, Australia and Luxembourg that would authorize the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria through four border crossings without approval from the Assad government, under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charters which means it can be enforced militarily. He backed a rival Russian draft, not under Chapter 7, that calls for local cease-fires to deliver humanitarian aid.

Churkin urged speedy approval of the Russian-drafted resolution circulated Monday expressing "grave concern" at "the dire situation of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas" in Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine and demanding "the immediate cessation of hostilities" leading to "a sustainable cease-fire."

Unfortunately, some Security Council members "seem to believe the situation there can be settled by force, in fact encouraging Kiev to continue their punitive operation in eastern parts of Ukraine," Churkin said. "We believe it's a grave mistake."

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