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France, Turkey call for humanitarian corridors in Syria

France, Turkey call for humanitarian corridors in Syria

With an Arab League proposal for a U.N.-authorized peacekeeping mission failing to gain traction in the U.N. Security Council, France and Turkey today revived the moribund proposal for the establishment of a humanitarian aid corridor in Syria.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who first floated the idea in November, will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow to see if he can persuade Moscow to approve a U.N. Security Council mandate for such a mission. France will also press Arab and Western foreign ministers meeting in Tunisia next week as part of a gathering of so-called "Friends of Syria" to support the initiative.

The French plan, outlined by Juppe in November, called for the creation of safe zones, defended by armed international observers, along Syria’s borders with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. It would have allowed international aid workers direct access to tens of thousands of Syrian civilians affected by a violent government crackdown on the country’s 11-month long popular uprising. "The idea of humanitarian corridors that I previously proposed, to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres, should be discussed at the Security Council."

But a French diplomat said there is currently no plan to have armed observers protecting civilians. And a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry in Paris subsequently made it clear that any decision on how such corridors could enforced would be up to the U.N. Security Council.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, told the Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, that Ankara is considering a plan to deliver humanitarian assistance through a humanitarian aid corridor to besieged Syrian towns. "We want to work with the United Nations on a mechanism to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian cities, particularly Homs and Hama."

The initiative comes days after the United States, Russia, and Britain expressed reservations about an Arab League plan to establish a joint United Nations/Arab League peacekeeping mission for Syria. And some Security Council diplomats voiced skepticism about the plan’s prospects for gaining traction in the U.N. Security Council, citing the unlikelihood of Syria granting its consent.

"This doesn’t fit with what the Arabs are doing," said one council member, who said France has not begun discussions on the plan with diplomats at the United Nations yet. "Frankly, it’s not something upon which serious discussions are taking place."

For the time being, the U.N.’s center of gravity has shifted to the General Assembly, which is scheduled to vote tomorrow on an Arab draft resolution that condemns Syria’s violent crackdown on protesters and endorses an Arab League proposal for a political transition in Syria. The draft, which is almost identical to a U.N. Security Council resolution recently vetoed by China and Russia, calls on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to help support Arab peace efforts in the region.

While the General Assembly resolution is not enforceable through the imposition of sanctions or other coercive means, it will enlarge the U.N.’s diplomatic role in resolving the crisis, and ensure that Syria remains in the spotlight.

Russia, meanwhile, has introduced a series of amendments requiring that Syria’s opposition "dissociate themselves" from Syria’s armed opposition, linking the government withdrawal of armed forces from cities and towns to an end of armed anti-government attacks, and eliminating a provision endorsing an Arab League timeline for the establishment of a transitional government of national unity — according to a copy of the Russian text obtained by Turtle Bay. The sponsors of the U.N. General Assembly rejected a previous effort by Russia to incorporate similar amendments into a Security Council resolution.

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