Horizon Scanning: Briefing by Head of DPA on Middle East Trip
Following the adoption of the September programme of work tomorrow morning (4 September), Security Council members are scheduled to be briefed by the head of the Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, on his recent visit to the Middle East. (These briefings on emerging issues were held almost every month from November2010 through March 2012 but have become far less regular with just one held this year in June under the UK presidency.)
Feltman visited the Middle East from 20-28 August, travelling to Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. As the visit took place shortly after the security crackdown on supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi and the retaliatory sectarian attacks that followed throughout Egypt, the original focus for the trip was on how the UN can best support peace and reconciliation efforts in Egypt and regarding Syria, on preparations and support for the Geneva II conference. However, the alleged use of chemical weapons in the 21 August attacks on rebel-held areas outside Damascus is likely to have influenced the discussions on Syria. (For more information, see our 21 August and 28 August stories on Syria.)
Discussions on Syria in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar
Feltman had comprehensive discussions on the situation in Syria in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Members may ask about responses to preparations for Geneva II and how this has been impacted by the developments since the alleged chemical weapon attack. (It seems a late August meeting between Russia, the UN and the US to prepare for the Geneva II conference was called off by the US.) While some members are convinced that Geneva II will now have to be further postponed, those members who are keen to still pursue Geneva II and a political solution may want more information from Feltman on whether Iran is willing to use its influence to persuade Syria to attend the talks. There could also be some discussion of how any type of military attack on Syria could affect Iran’s ability to pressure Syria as well as how such attacks might impact talks on the Iran nuclear file.
However, given recent developments it is likely that most Council members will be less focused on Geneva II than on Feltman’s discussions in the region on the appropriate response if Syria has indeed used chemical weapons. As this is the first time the Council has met since 21 August on Syria some members may use this opportunity to raise a number of issues related to possible future developments, including a potential air strike by the US as well as possible retaliation from Syria. There may also be concerns about protection of civilians in the event of any military strike on Syria.
Given that the Secretary-General has briefed both the P5 members as well as the elected members on the next steps in the UN chemical weapons team’s analysis of samples collected in Syria, members may not press Feltman on this issue. It seems that Council members expect the team’s findings may take between two and four weeks to be finalised following which the Secretary-General will likely brief on the results.
One issue that may come up in relation to Feltman’s visit to Iraq is Camp Ashraf given the violence at the camp that reportedly left 47 people dead on 1 September.
The humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis is likely to be covered in Feltman’s briefing on the Amman leg of his trip. He had visited Jordan with the Secretary-General earlier in August and it seems that he went back to Jordan for a follow-up discussion on the humanitarian impact of the crisis.
Although it seems Syria was mentioned in the bilateral discussions between Council members and Australia, the President of the Council for September, it is not currently in the programme of work for September which is expected to be adopted tomorrow. However, given the possibility of some sort of military action on Syria without Council authorization, it is likely that the Council will be asked to meet on the issue at some point in the month.
Council members will be interested in updates on the situation in Egypt since Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed on the matter on 15 August. (For more information, see our 15 August story.) In particular members may want more information on the continuing crackdown on Morsi supporters and the September 1 order for Morsi and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders to stand trial for inciting murder against anti-Morsi protesters in December 2012. There is also likely to be interest in the on-going political transition and the Constituent Assembly that was formed on 1 September to review amendments made to the 2012 constitution.
Also of concern to some Council members may be the continuing lawlessness in the northern Sinai Peninsula, where 25 policemen were killed in the border town of Rafah on 19 August, in the deadliest attack of its kind in years. The intensified campaign by the Egyptian military against Sinai militants may also be covered.
Council members may also be concerned about the living conditions of the Syrian refugees Egypt is hosting. UNHCR has said that have been negatively affected by the turbulent political situation in Egypt, with many being harassed and assaulted, as they are viewed with suspicion by some who accuse foreigners of having infiltrated the country to participate in recent violence.
While in Cairo, Feltman also met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil el-Araby. Among the topics covered at this meeting were areas of collaboration between the two organisations, efforts towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as the political process in Yemen.