Meetings on Syria
Over the next two days the Council will be involved in several Syria-related events. This afternoon (29 August) Council members will have an informal meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the newly appointed UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria.
The meeting with Brahimi comes a day ahead of the high-level meeting chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, which will focus on the humanitarian aspect of the crisis in Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will brief the Council during Thursday afternoon’s meeting. The Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Turkey are set to participate and ministers from Iraq and Lebanon are also expected to speak. No outcome is expected from any of the meetings.
Last Friday (24 August), Brahimi met with the Secretary-General and had some bilateral meetings, including with France as Council President in August, but most members have not had a chance to hear directly from him as yet. It seems the idea of meeting with Brahimi was raised during Council consultations on the Middle East on 22 August. It appears that Brahimi is looking to gather information and brainstorm on how he should proceed once he takes on the position of Joint Special Representative on 1 September.
Since being appointed, Brahimi has stressed in media interviews that he needs Council unity on Syria to do his job and it is likely that he will bring this up when he meets Council members.
Council members for their part are likely to make clear during the discussion what they believe is the right approach to any negotiations. However, with the fundamental dynamics around political transition unchanged it is unlikely that Council members will be able to offer Brahimi a unified approach. Among the issues that may come up is whether or not Brahimi should continue with the six-point plan, which had been the basis of the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts, or start afresh with a new approach.
Although not the main focus on the meeting, it is possible that some Council members may seek more information on the massacre in Darayu on 25 August from DPA. (Opposition groups are reportedly claiming that more than 400 bodies have been found following the massacre. The Secretary-General has condemned the crime and called for an immediate investigation.)
On Thursday, the Council will turn its attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria. Eliasson’s briefing is likely to focus on the need for better humanitarian access. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) head Valerie Amos, who was in Syria in mid-August, has said that lack of access and insufficient funding have hampered the efforts of UN agencies in Syria. She has appealed for the international community to increase its funding for the 2.5 million Syrians who need humanitarian assistance.
Thursday’s meeting will also focus on the impact of the influx of refugees to neighbouring counties. Guterres is likely to provide the meeting with more detailed numbers of people displaced by violence in Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has publicly voiced his frustration at the sluggish response to the refugee crisis and is likely to ask for more support from the international community. (More than 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict. The refugee flows to Turkey have increased as fighting intensified around Aleppo and the number of Syrian refugees entering Turkey doubled over the last week.)
Davutoğlu has suggested that refugees should be housed within Syria’s borders by the UN and may raise this during the meeting. This, however, would need humanitarian corridors or safe zones which most likely would require a no-fly zone to protect civilians. While France has come out in support of this idea, it is unlikely to gain wide support in the Council given the unchanged positions on intervention.
Reactions to France’s proposal for a high-level meeting have been mixed. Some members have questioned what it can hope to achieve given the continuing divide among Council members on a number of fundamental issues. Some members were also concerned about the detrimental effects of potentially politicising humanitarian aspects of the crisis. While in general members agree that such a meeting could help the international community focus on the humanitarian aspect of this crisis, and possibly stimulate international assistance, there are some who believe that the lack of any new initiatives will once again highlight the Council’s inability to make a difference on Syria.
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