DPA Horizon Scanning Briefing
Following adoption of the June programme of work tomorrow morning (4 June), Council members are scheduled to be briefed by Oscar Fernández-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in what appears to be an effort by the UK, the President of the Security Council for June, to revive the DPA “horizon-scanning” briefings that it initiated in November 2010 and which were held throughout 2011 but have since become less frequent. Tomorrow’s “horizon-scanning” session will be the first such briefing since September 2012, with several issues, including the situation in Mali and the wider Sahel, the preparations for the second Geneva conference on Syria, and Iraq-Kuwait, on the agenda. While a number of Council members were opposed to reviving the horizon scanning briefing, consensus was reached to hold the meeting after it was agreed that the topics would be circulated well in advance. (For background on the DPA briefings, see “In Hindsight: Horizon Scanning Briefings” in our May 2013 Monthly Forecast.)
Syria: Preparations for the Geneva Conference
On Syria Council members will be keen to learn more about the planning being done by DPA, and the Arab League-UN Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, for international peace talks to forge a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The impetus for these talks was first announced on 7 May by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. DPA’s briefing comes one day ahead of a 5 June meeting in Geneva between Brahimi and officials from Russia, the UN and the US to prepare for what is now commonly referred to as “Geneva II”. (The first Geneva conference was held on 30 June 2012 and resulted in a communiqué mapping out steps for a Syrian-led political process. The sticking point from Geneva I remains over a year later—the fate of President Bashar al-Assad in any political transition.) The key difference between Geneva I and Geneva II is the plan for the government and opposition to engage in direct talks.
Several issues related to the participation, format, and timing of Geneva II—as well as the humanitarian situation in Syria — may be raised tomorrow. Many Council members will be eager to hear more about who is likely to participate at Geneva II, primarily who might represent the government and the opposition, as well as whom from among the many international stakeholders will be present. Clarity about the level of representation from the Syrian government, whether the opposition has come up with a unified position for Geneva II and who will participate from the region will be of interest to many members.
Regarding the format of the talks in Geneva, there has been some speculation that Brahimi is considering structuring the talks so as to provide a platform for broad international participation, possibly even by those excluded last year, while also gathering a discrete group of states to participate in direct negotiations to be facilitated by Brahimi. There also seems to be tension among the P5 over the possibility that only Russia and US will be invited to participate in the more direct negotiations. (At press time, the Geneva II talks were anticipated for mid-June with a view towards keeping the momentum alive with follow-up at the G8 summit slated for 17-18 June in Northern Ireland. However, it is possible that the Geneva II meeting may be pushed to later in the month.)
Even though the focus of the Syria portion of the briefing is expected to be on the Geneva II meeting, some Council members may raise the current humanitarian situation in Al-Qusayr, a town near the border with Lebanon where Hezbollah is reportedly fighting alongside the Syrian government to gain control back from the opposition. On 1 June the Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for the protection of civilians in Al-Qusayr and for trapped residents to be allowed to leave. Also, on 1 June, the UK circulated a draft press statement on the situation calling for humanitarian access, but Russia broke silence arguing that on-going diplomatic efforts like the Geneva II meeting would allow the security of civilians to be safeguarded.
While the situation in Mali has been a focus of considerable Council attention in recent months, Council members might also be interested in hearing DPA’s assessment of the deteriorating security situation in the wider Sahel. For example, suicide attacks carried out in Agadez and Arlit resulted in more than 20 casualties late last month in Niger, while Nigeria is currently conducting military operations against Boko Haram in the north of that country after a series of terrorist attacks. It seems that the briefing will also include information about terrorist groups from northern Mali making their way to southern Libya. Council members may be interested in the possible impact of these groups on the stability of the region.
Another issue that will be raised is the progress that the Secretariat is making on the much delayed and anticipated UN integrated strategy for the Sahel which was requested by the Council in resolution 2056 of 5 July 2012 and which is expected to be part of the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on the Sahel.
Council members will likely be interested to hear about progress made by Iraq on its Chapter VII obligations. In March, the Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Maintenance Project concluded its work, and on 30 May the Foreign Minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, announced that Iraq and Kuwait had signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the maintenance of border signs and agreed to a joint committee to handle other border maintenance issues. The compensation of Iraqi citizens relocated by the border demarcation has also moved forward, following the 17 May authorisation by the Council for the transfer of compensation funds from the UN to the government of Iraq.
The future of the mandate formerly assigned to the High-Level Coordinator on Iraq-Kuwait missing persons and property will likely be of significant interest to Council members as well. On 30 May, Kuwait transmitted a letter to the Security Council indicating that it agreed in principle to having that mandate folded into the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), transferring the obligations from Chapter VII to Chapter VI. There appears to be consensus in the Council that any decision on the future of the mandate should pay particular attention to the position of Kuwait on the subject, suggesting that the Council will follow through with assigning the mandate to UNAMI. (The Council is expected to hold further consultations on Iraq/Kuwait issues later this month where this decision may be made.) In his briefing, Fernández-Taranco is also expected to touch on increasing violence in Iraq and the deleterious effects of the conflict in Syria on Iraq.