UN council set to adopt anti-ISIS sanctions

Move to disrupt funding important sign of US-Russia cooperation over Syria: Diplomats

UNITED NATIONS • The US and Russia have joined forces to draft a legally binding Security Council resolution to strengthen sanctions against those who do business with terrorist groups, chiefly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

That agreement hints at the possibility of greater cooperation to end the civil war in Syria.

The 28-page draft resolution, which was expected to be adopted yesterday at a meeting led by US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, repackages sanctions that have been in place for more than a dozen years, but are often flouted.

The draft calls on countries to describe what steps they are taking to prevent terrorist organisations from making money, including interdicting oil sales.

It also aims to prevent the groups from using international banks, and bolsters monitoring efforts by the United Nations.

The effects may be limited: ISIS draws a large share of its revenues from "taxes" imposed on the people who live in its territories.

Still, diplomats said, the resolution was an important measure of fledgling cooperation between top US and Russian officials to negotiate a political accord on the Syrian conflict.

They have both increasingly focused on what they agree on - combating the threat of ISIS - and deferred the question that they disagree on - what becomes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The next test of that cooperation will come today, when diplomats from more than a dozen countries are to gather in New York with the aim of getting the Syrian government and opposition groups to agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government next month.

Consensus around such a sanctions resolution would be a significant breakthrough. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Ms Samantha Power, described that prospect as "the first, very high-profile way that the Security Council would show its unity around the importance of achieving a political settlement" and routing ISIS.

What vexes the United States and Russia is not just their own differences about the future of Syria, but also the rival agendas of their allies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

"The regional actors have key concerns that will trump outside pressure," said Mr Jean-Marie Guehenno, president of the International Crisis Group.

"There's a shared interest in terrorism," he added, "but the definition of terrorism and how you fight terrorism are so different that we are far from having common interests."

Three main differences remain between Russia and the United States. Washington has declined to cooperate with Moscow on military strikes against ISIS. Russia and the US do not agree on which Syrian opposition groups should be part of a ceasefire and which should be deemed terrorists. And, publicly at least, the two world powers remain at odds over whether Mr Assad should be allowed to take part in any future elections.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear on Tuesday that the US was not "seeking regime change in Syria", while also insisting that Mr Assad could not lead what he called "the future Syria".

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'UN council set to adopt anti-ISIS sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe