Russia denies threatening Qatar in UN talks

AP News
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Posted: Feb 07, 2012 2:30 PM
Russia denies threatening Qatar in UN talks

Russia's U.N. ambassador denied reports that he threatened Qatar could be "wiped off the map" during contentious negotiations over a Syrian peace resolution last week.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin also said Tuesday that he thought the resolution could have passed if Western governments had continued talks several more days.

Churkin said he called the news conference to deny reports circulating on the Internet that he responded to a warning by Qatar's prime minister not to veto the resolution by saying Russia would wipe Qatar off the map.

Churkin said Russia's U.N. Mission has been deluged with calls about the reports, which he said are "lies." Qatar has not commented.

Russia and China used their veto power on Saturday to block the resolution, which backed an Arab League peace plan for Syria.

Qatar's prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, had appeared before the Security Council on Jan. 31 to urge the U.N. to act.

The resolution, aimed at ending the Syrian government's suppression of a civilian uprising, backed an Arab League plan that calls for President Bashar Assad to step aside. Some 5,400 people have been killed in 11 months of violence, according to U.N. estimates.

Allegations of the supposed Russian threat were carried in Arab press reports, which cited a recording of an alleged exchange between the two men captured by French media. No link to the supposed recording could be found.

Churkin told reporters he was never alone with the Qatari leader during his visit to New York last week, and that during the three times they met they were accompanied by numerous members of Qatar's delegation and other U.N. diplomats.

Russia had objected to parts of the resolution over concerns it could lead to the kind of military intervention or regime change seen in Libya last year.

"I regret there was a veto," said Churkin, adding that he believed that other council members rushed too quickly to the vote.

The Russian envoy said that with a few more days of negotiation, "we could have had the resolution unanimously adopted."

Guatemala's U.N. Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, who voted for the resolution, told The Associated Press that he did not believe waiting a few more days would have made a difference.

After reaching what they thought was a consensus agreement on Friday, he said, diplomats were confronted by Russia seeking to reopen negotiations on Saturday.

"We felt there was no justification for reopening the negotiations," Rosenthal said, adding it was "time to vote."

Churkin said that he believes Moscow's relations with the Arab world remain "solid," and said his country "can contribute a lot to a solution" in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday was visiting Damascus, where he urged Assad to adopt reforms aimed at resolving Syria's crisis.

Russia is a major ally of Syria and a leading arms supplier to the country.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.