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Syria Consultations with UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative

Tomorrow afternoon, 29 January, the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is scheduled to brief Council members in consultations. Members are expecting an update from Brahimi on his efforts to forge a political solution to the on-going Syrian crisis. At press time, there was no expectation of a Council outcome following the briefing.

When Brahimi last briefed the Council on 29 November 2012 he contended that the 30 June 2012 Final Communiqué of the Action Group for Syria (the Geneva Communiqué) should be translated into a Council resolution that would serve as the basis for a political solution. (However, the role of President Bashar al-Assad in any transition was a major sticking point during the negotiations of the Geneva Communiqué and continues to be contentious among Council members.) In particular, Russia and the US, while both agreeing to the Communiqué, had different interpretations of the language on this issue.

Since November, Brahimi has held three trilateral meetings with representatives from the US and Russia. These meetings have sought to reach agreement between the parties on their interpretation of the Geneva Communiqué, in the hope that this might lead to consensus in the Council on a way forward that could be formalised through a resolution. The first trilateral on 6 December included high-level participation by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a follow-up meeting on 9 December between Clinton’s deputy, William Burns, and Lavrov’s deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov. At this point, there seemed to be a sense among Council members that Brahimi was having some success in bridging the gap between the US and Russian positions.

Following the first two trilaterals, Brahimi met with Assad in Damascus on 24 December to outline the steps Brahimi believed were needed to end the crisis. On 6 January, in his first public address in six months, Assad implicitly dismissed Brahimi’s work as foreign interference. Some Council members interpreted Assad’s address as a message to Russia not to overestimate its influence over the Assad regime. In this context, Council members will be interested in how Brahimi plans to proceed in light of Assad’s statements. Also of interest will be his assessment of whether consensus in the Council would still have the same potential—given the deterioration of the situation in Syria toward sectarian violence— to positively impact the dynamic on the ground.

In remarks to the press following the last trilateral with Burns and Bogdanov on 11 January, Brahimi said that all parties had agreed on the need to reach a political solution based on the Geneva Communiqué. He also said that some progress had been made in defining the scope and powers of the transitional authority called for in the Communiqué. Even so, most Council members appear to be pessimistic regarding any real progress resulting from these trilateral discussions, and will be interested to hear if Brahimi still believes this is the right approach to the situation. (Brahimi has been in New York since last week meeting bilaterally with Council members and so far there does not seem to be any evidence that he has offered an alternative plan.)

Council members may also want to know more about Brahimi’s plans to work with Syrian opposition groups, in particular the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). Envoys from more than 50 nations met with representatives of the SNC in Paris today (28 January), in order to mobilise international support for the Syrian opposition. Some Council members have suggested that Brahimi may want to work with the SNC to soften its tone regarding negotiations with the Assad regime and the role current Syrian officials might play in a transitional government.

Most Council members do not expect Brahimi to present any new initiatives in his briefing tomorrow, and some even suggest he is unlikely to reiterate his call from 29 November for a Council resolution based on the Geneva Communiqué. However, given the worsening humanitarian situation, Brahimi is expected to be blunt and forthright in his remarks. (A 2 January estimate by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 60,000 people have died in the conflict, and UN-registered Syrian refugees now number 678,540, with estimates that the true number may be closer to one million.) Most Council members expect a lively discussion to follow his briefing. (The Council last considered the situation in Syria on 18 January, when Council members were briefed in consultations by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.)

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