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Russia says U.N. vote on Syria sanctions negative for Geneva talks

By Tom Miles and John Irish
| GENEVA

GENEVA Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Tuesday that a U.N. Security Council resolution put forward by Western powers to punish Syria’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would harm peace talks in Geneva.

The resolution, which comes amid U.N.-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties, seeks to ban the supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist Syrian military commanders. Moscow has already said it will veto the resolution.

“It is counter-constructive,” Gatilov told reporters. “The climate will be negative, not because we will veto it, but because this resolution was put forward.”

The Security Council showdown, due later on Tuesday, will pit Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, against the United States, France, Britain and others, who back rebels.

Russia has sought to revive diplomacy since its air force helped the Syrian army and allied militias to defeat rebels in Aleppo in December, Assad’s biggest victory in six years of war.

Despite the announcement of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey and supported by Iran, a weekend of bombings and air strikes in Syria has rattled the talks that began last week.

The two sides have traded blame and appear no closer to actual negotiations.

Gatilov said he had spoken to the Syrian government delegation earlier on Tuesday and would meet the opposition on Wednesday. On Monday the opposition called on Moscow to pressure the Syrian government to discuss a political transition rather than just the fight against terrorism.

An opposition source said they would first meet the Middle East director at Russia’s foreign ministry, Sergei Vershinin, later on Tuesday.

“The fight against terrorism is a priority and should be on the agenda (in Geneva) along with other issues,” Gatilov said. “It should not be ignored in the course of negotiations.”

Russia, Turkey and Iran sponsored parallel talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, where they reinforced the ceasefire, paving the way for a resumption of U.N.-led mediations after a 10-month hiatus.

In a working paper handed to the two parties U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said the issue of fighting terrorism and the ceasefire should be handled in Astana.

The focus in Geneva would be three political issues – a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and accountable governance – based on Security Council resolution 2254.

“We met with (Syrian government negotiator Bashar) Ja’afari and he reconfirmed that he is not against the agenda proposal, but he said that terrorism should not be ignored and should also be on the agenda,” Gatilov said.

(Additional reporting by Yara Abi Nader and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones)

-Reuters