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UN faces Syria diplomacy failure

UNITED NATIONS -- Attempts by the United Nations to end the bloody 21-month-old Syrian conflict through diplomacy have been a resounding failure and there is little reason to expect a quick change given the Russian-U.S. rift on Syria.

After a year of intensive diplomatic efforts by the world body, U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria has made no more progress than his predecessor, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in getting the government and rebels to come to the negotiating table, or getting Russia and the United States to overcome their deep disagreements on Syria.

Brahimi heads to Moscow on Saturday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the United Nations said, but expectations are low. Syria's opposition leader rejected an invitation from Russia to attend peace talks, which was a blow to Brahimi's efforts.

At the heart of the diplomatic roadblock is a seemingly unbreakable impasse on the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and the United States, both veto-wielding permanent members of the 15-nation group, are seeing their bilateral ties deteriorate.

There is no reason to expect anything different in early 2013. After three joint Russian-Chinese vetoes on Syria, the Security Council has all but given up on the issue.

In addition to generally rocky relations between Washington and Moscow, Russia has strategic reasons for standing by Assad. He has been a staunch ally, a major purchaser of Russian arms and host to Russia's only warm-water naval port. But even Russia realizes Assad will likely be ousted sooner or later.

Annan, the first U.N.-Arab League peace negotiator to try to end the escalating civil war, focused on getting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition to agree to a ceasefire.

With neither side willing to lay down its weapons, a frustrated Annan announced his resignation in August, saying the divided Security Council had undermined his efforts. He urged Russia, China and Iran to do more to push for an end to the bloodshed.

Brahimi is concentrating on healing the rift between Russia and the United States as the conflict in Syria becomes increasingly gruesome and sectarian, U.N. officials and diplomats say.

Disagreements between the United States and Russia or China on the 15-nation Security Council are nothing new. They have had sharp differences on crises in Georgia, North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere that have prevented the council from taking any meaningful action.

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