Russia urges coordinated terrorism fight as airstrikes begin

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 8:27 PM
Russia urges coordinated terrorism fight as airstrikes begin

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia followed its launch of airstrikes in Syria with a call Wednesday for the world to unite in the fight against terrorist groups, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told foreign ministers of world powers that his country was circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to help make it happen.

Secretary of State John Kerry responded by announcing that the United States is prepared to welcome Russia's actions in Syria if they are directed at the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, and promising that the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria would "dramatically accelerate our efforts."

And Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the council that his country strongly endorses Russia's latest moves and called French and other airstrikes in Syria that aren't coordinated with his government a "blatant contravention" of international law. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran, Syria's closest ally, noted that the U.S.-led coalition was "failing to achieve its goals."

Russia spoke a day after President Barack Obama made his own pitch on countering the threat of the Islamic State and other groups to a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

With Obama gone on Wednesday, it was the turn of Russia, which this month holds the presidency of the Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful body.

The Russian draft, obtained by The Associated Press, calls on states to "coordinate their activities with the consent of the states in the territories of which such activities are conducted." The language, a reference to Syria's government, is similar to that included in an earlier draft council statement that Russia pursued in recent weeks but the U.S. refused to negotiate.

Also on Wednesday:

— Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, to applause, that he is no longer bound by agreements signed with Israel. The Palestinians then celebrated the raising of their flag at U.N. headquarters for the first time as a non-member observer state. The United States did not attend.

— The so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — met alone and then with key Mideast nations to discuss reviving long-stalled peace negotiations.

— Migration was the subject of a high-level session on the sidelines of the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting.

In the Security Council, Lavrov said Russia is ready to "forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight." He listed countries with a key role to play in resolving the chaos in Syria, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the U.S. and even China.

"What we require are collective agreed approaches backed by Security Council," Lavrov said.

Kerry said the U.S. is prepared to hold what he described as "de-confliction" talks with Russia over the two airstrike campaigns as early as possible, "perhaps even as soon as tomorrow."

"We will ensure through precision airstrikes that ISIL do not have any sanctuary, anywhere, on the ground in Syria," Kerry told the council, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Saudi Arabia's U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, accused the Russian airstrikes of targeting areas where the Islamic State group wasn't present and leaving "many innocent victims." He demanded an immediate end to the strikes and said a country can't fight extremists and support them as well.

The foreign minister of France, which began its own airstrikes in Syria a few days ago, told the council that his country is ready to cooperate with Russia and others in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, but under three conditions that include an end to violence against Syria's civilians, "absolute clarity" about who the countries are fighting and the exit of President Bashar Assad.

Laurent Fabius said the collective way forward must include a "broad-based negotiation toward a political transition that doesn't lead to maintaining in power Syria's hangman."

Frustrated by years of deep divide in the Security Council on Syria, with Russia and China using their veto power to block several proposals, Fabius called the body a "council of impotence." France was chairing a meeting Wednesday on its campaign to have the council's five permanent members restrain their use of the veto in cases of mass atrocities. Russia has rejected that idea.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his country welcomes Russia's new "focus" on using force but warned it's "very important that Russia be able to confirm that military action it has undertaken this morning" doesn't target Syria's moderate opposition. He urged Russia to use its influence on Syria to make it stop using barrel bombs and chemicals on civilians.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in New York and Edith M. Lederer, Greg Keller, Alina Heineke and George Jahn at the United Nations contributed.