By Michelle Nichols
HATAY, Turkey (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Thursday she plans to meet her Russian counterpart to kick off likely contentious talks over aid deliveries into Syria from Turkey, but she will not let Moscow use the issue as a "bargaining chip" on Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has had few interactions with Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia outside meetings of the 15-member U.N. Security council since Moscow invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24.
"Since Ukraine we have not had any regular meetings, but it is my intention - when I return to New York - to meet with him on Syria," she told reporters while traveling back to the United States from Turkey, where she visited the border with Syria to assess a long-running humanitarian aid operation.
The Security Council mandate allowing the cross-border deliveries is due to expire on July 10. But Syrian ally Russia has signaled opposition to renewing the operation, arguing that it violates Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that more help should be delivered from within the country.
Already fraught tensions between the United States and Russia have only worsened in recent months. Washington has responded to Russia's war in Ukraine with tough unilateral sanctions on Moscow, sent weapons to Ukraine and internationally isolated Russia at the United Nations.
"We will not allow the situation in Ukraine or the situation in Syria to be used as a bargaining chip with the Russians," warned Thomas-Greenfield ahead of Security Council negotiations on the Syria aid operation.
A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favor and no veto by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass. In the past decade, the council has been divided on Syria - Russia has vetoed more than a dozen resolutions related to Syria and was backed by China for many of those votes.
"It's a massive ongoing operation and it would be so tragic, so catastrophic, if this Security Council resolution is not renewed," Mark Cutts, deputy U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator, told Thomas-Greenfield during a visit to a U.N. shipment hub on the Turkish border with Syria on Thursday.
Every month some 800 trucks deliver humanitarian assistance to more than 4 million people in northwest Syria.
"Every single truck is monitored by the U.N.," Cutts said. "Without the U.N. involvement we fear that donors will not have the same confidence to support this operation, we might see much more aid diversion."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alison Williams)