On Syria, who might give first – Russia or the West?

The West says that any extension of the UN mandate for monitors in Syria must have teeth. But Russia is categorically rejecting any resolution that foresees enforcement of punitive measures.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (l.) meets UN envoy Kofi Annan in Moscow, July 16. Russia said on Monday it would block moves at the UN Security Council to extend a UN monitoring mission in Syria if Western powers did not stop resorting to 'blackmail' by threatening sanctions against Damascus.

In the battle of the red lines on Syria, will Russia or the West give first?

Or will neither – and therefore will the semblance of an international peace plan for Syria be stripped away?

The United Nations Security Council faces a deadline of Friday to extend the mandate of the monitoring mission that, on paper at least, has been overseeing and reporting back on the Syria cease-fire, which is part of international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for the country.

But Russia and the Security Council’s Western powers, which have been at loggerheads over Syria for the 16 months of the crisis, show no signs of overcoming their differences. With each side drawing a line in the sand that just happens to be the other side’s must-have demand, the monitoring mission’s days are looking like they might be numbered.

The West says any extension of the mission’s mandate must have teeth. A British-proposed resolution calls for imposing sanctions against any party violating the terms of Mr. Annan’s peace plan – for example, a stipulation that heavy arms be pulled out of populated areas. The resolution would authorize those sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Invoking Chapter 7 means the Council would be authorized to enforce its decision, though the British do not go so far as to call for the use of military force in the case of violations. Moreover, the United States is hinting that it might not be worth extending the mission’s mandate unless it is under Chapter 7 and the Council is able to impose meaningful consequences.

Ah, but Russia is more than hinting: It is categorically rejecting any resolution that foresees enforcement of punitive measures. In Russia’s view, any recourse to Chapter 7 would be a foot in the door for the West to eventually resort to the use of force in Syria, as it did last year in Libya.

So even as it issues a big nyet to Britain’s proposed resolution, Russia is offering a rival text that would basically extend the monitoring mission’s mandate without giving it any new tools.

Western powers say that is not good enough, with Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, suggesting last week that the US might prefer to see the mission’s mandate lapse than to reauthorize it under conditions that have left it ineffective.

The Council’s Western powers also insist that they have Annan on their side, since he says that any reauthorization should include “consequences” for any party violating the terms of his peace plan.

Annan was in Moscow on Monday trying to find a way to bridge the differences before Friday’s deadline. At the same time, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Beijing pressing Chinese officials to accept some compromise to allow Annan’s peace plan, which he has said is the international community’s only game in Syria.

But Russia, which (joined by China) has vetoed two resolutions on Syria in the course of the crisis, is not sounding open to compromise – certainly not to any resolution that would authorize the Council to enforce its actions.

Before going into a meeting with Annan Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of “blackmail” because it is saying, no extension of the monitoring mission without a resolution under Chapter 7. Such an approach is “counterproductive,” “dangerous,” and “unacceptable,” Mr. Lavrov added, because it would “use [cease-fire] monitors as bargaining chips.”

Hardly words that suggested a diplomatic breakthrough is close at hand.

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