Consultations on the UN Mission in Syria
Tomorrow morning (26 June) during consultations, Council members will receive a video-link briefing from Nasser al-Kidwa, a deputy to UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and will also hear from DPKO head Hervé Ladsous on the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).
Council members have already been briefed twice this month on the Syrian crisis, hearing from the Secretary-General and Annan on 7 June on the escalating violence and from UNSMIS head Major-General Robert Mood on 19 June after he suspended the mission’s activities due to safety concerns. Tomorrow’s briefing is the regular semi-monthly briefing requested in resolution 2043 which established UNSMIS. (The UNSMIS mandate expires on 20 July and it is unclear if and in what capacity it might be renewed.)
Council members will likely be interested in an update from Ladsous on the status of UNSMIS activities which, at press time, were still suspended. Council members will also likely continue preliminary discussions with Ladsous on the future of UNSMIS ahead of receiving the Secretary-General’s recommendations which are expected on 2 July. If the crisis continues to deteriorate and the mission is unable to resume its activities, several Council members think that UNSMIS should not be extended with its current mandate. In the absence of a breakthrough on the political track and if the level of violence persists then it seems the most probable option would be to retain a small civilian liaison mission with limited verification and reporting capacity.
Council members are likely to be looking for updates from al-Kidwa on a number of recent developments. Uppermost on Council members’ minds is possibly the international conference tentatively scheduled for 30 June in Geneva which will discuss possible action to ensure implementation of the six-point plan. (Following Annan’s briefing to the Council on 7 June, Russia suggested a conference to complement Annan’s idea of establishing a Contact Group on Syria. Besides the P5 members, participants could include countries bordering Syria such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; those with influence on the parties such as Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia; and international and regional bodies such as the Arab League, the EU, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the UN. )
Council members’ expectations for this conference seem to have increased after no breakthrough on the Syrian issue was reached during the 18 June meeting between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20. On 22 June, Annan—in announcing that planning had begun on such a conference—said that it was time for countries with influence to raise the level of pressure on the parties and that he hoped the meeting would bring about an end to the violence, secure a political transition and ensure that the crisis does not spread to Syria’s neighbours.
There is also likely to be interest in hearing how the 22 June shooting down of a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet by Syria might impact the international efforts to stabilise the Syrian situation. (The jet had reportedly been shot down without warning after it had strayed into Syrian airspace.) At Turkey’s request NATO members are meeting to discuss the incident tomorrow (26 June) under Article IV of the “Brussels Treaty” of 1948. (This allows for consultations when a member feels its security is threatened.)
Council members will also likely be keen to hear al-Kidwa’s views on the 24 and 25 June meeting of various Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council (SNC), in Brussels. (Al-Kidwa’s primary role as Annan’s deputy is to liaise with the Syrian opposition.) It seems the groups are working at finding a common platform for a democratic transition in Syria which could bridge their differences. (These include rifts over positions on military intervention, dialogue with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic political parties.)
Any immediate Council action following tomorrow’s briefing seems unlikely. Council members are aware that a Chapter VII resolution with a credible threat of targeted sanctions (travel bans and assets freeze) and perhaps even an arms embargo, given the increasingly militarised nature of the conflict, is a possible next step. (Annan’s main message over the past several weeks has been that the violence is escalating and the Syrian government needs to face consequences for being primarily responsible for not implementing the six-point plan.) However, with Russia and China still opposed to such measures, until there is agreement at capital level it is not to be expected that such a resolution will be put on the table in New York.
It is unclear what the Council’s next steps on Syria might be as the situation is in constant flux. However, there is unlikely to be any concrete action prior to the anticipated conference on 30 June and the recommendations from the Secretary-General on the next steps for UNSMIS. In addition, Council members are aware that decisions coming out of tomorrow’s NATO meeting on the downed Turkish jet and the next Friends of Syria meeting scheduled for 6 July in Paris may affect its own approach to the Syrian crisis.
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