Consultations on the UN Mission in Syria
Council members will be briefed tomorrow afternoon (7 June) on the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) in closed consultations by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous. Prior to the consultations Council members will meet with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby in an interactive dialogue. Tomorrow morning, Annan will also brief the General Assembly in an informal meeting along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, al-Araby and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović.
Ladsous will update Council members on UNSMIS deployment and activities. Council members will also be interested to hear from Ladsous what progress the Secretary-General has made, in cooperation with UNSMIS, with the investigation into the 25 and 26 May el-Houleh attacks, as requested in the Council’s 27 May press statement (SC/10658). Council members may also want clearer information on media reports which indicate severe clashes today in Damascus and Latakia with a particular interest in reports of a massacre in Mazraat al-Qubeir near Hama.
Some Council members will also likely want information on the deployment of the civilian component of the mission, and whether it has been staffed with the expertise to monitor human rights abuses, in particular relating to children, women and sexual violence.
Turning to Annan’s briefing, the Joint Special Envoy is expected to update Council members on his mediation efforts and on his recent visit to Damascus, Jordan and Beirut where he met respectively with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, King Abdullah of Jordan and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. He also attended a meeting with Arab League ministers in Doha.
A priority for many Council members will be getting Annan’s assessment of the Syrian government’s commitment to cease military operations and release detainees. While 500 detainees were released on 1 June and there seems to be progress on the humanitarian track, for many this is not enough. Of greater concern to many Council members is the lack of significant progress by the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons and withdraw from population centres.
There will also be interest in Annan’s views on the Free Syrian Army’s recent declaration that it was no longer committed to the cessation of violence as outlined in the six-point plan (i.e., that opposition elements will cease violence within 48 hours of the government doing so). In particular, members will want to know how this might impact his efforts to coordinate both internal and external opposition.
It seems likely that Annan will also warn, as he did when he addressed the Arab League on 2 June, of the growing spectre of sectarian civil war and touch on the regional impact of the crisis with refugee flows and tense border incidents.
On 2 June the Arab League adopted a resolution urging the Security Council to take necessary measures to ensure the protection of civilians and to take action to ensure the implementation of Annan’s six-point plan within a specific time frame through the use of sanctions. In a recent letter to the Council (S/2012/385), al-Araby urged the Council to increase the number of UNSMIS observers and provide authorisation to protect civilians. It is unclear if Annan will emphasise these requests from the Arab League tomorrow. However, it is likely to come up during the interactive dialogue with al-Araby. It also seems unlikely that the Council will amend the UNSMIS mandate ahead of its expiry on 21 July.
Council members are unclear as to what, if any, requests will be made by Annan tomorrow. Many Council members see signs of increasing frustration from Annan with the lack of progress and see the possibility of him taking a more critical posture vis-à-vis the Syrian government and its commitments and responsibilities. The Council has tended to follow Annan’s lead on the situation and will likely continue to do so in the medium-term as all Council members are unanimous in their concern over the increasing levels of violence and are broadly agreed that Annan’s six-point plan is the best and last option to stabilise Syria.
It seems many Council members are aware that a more concerted approach by both the Council and the international community to the Syrian situation is needed if Annan’s mediation efforts are to succeed and in order to avoid a full-scale civil war. This could require more credible pressure being applied on the Syrian Government to meet its commitments. A possible scenario could be a focused Contact Group, including the P5 members, coupled with Council action setting out timelines for progress on the six-point plan with language triggering sanctions if benchmarks aren’t met (similar to resolution 2046 on Sudan and South Sudan border issues).
However, the strain among the P5 is palpable over how to speed up the pace of implementing the six-point plan—in particular the political transition. During a 2 June phone call, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed this issue. While Russia has publicly said that it is not insisting Assad stay in power, it does not want any Council involvement in regime change. Fundamental differences over how a political transition can come about remain.
The P3 have also indicated that they would like the Council to consider sanctions in the case of non-compliance by the Syrian government with resolutions 2042 and 2043. However, sanctions are still a red line for Russia and China. China and Russia are also unlikely at this juncture to endorse the idea of a Contact Group which explicitly outsources the prerogatives of the Security Council.
There is an understanding that P5 unity is needed for an enhanced strategic approach to succeed. At this stage it seems unlikely that differences among the permanent members over the approach to Syria will dissipate in the absence of a clear request by Annan mapping out the way forward. The P5 are expected to meet separately with Annan tomorrow and are also likely to discuss the Syrian situation on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico from 18-19 June. (Such a meeting was also envisaged on the sidelines of last month’s G8 summit at Camp David but Russian President Vladimir Putin was not in attendance.)