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Syria Special Representative to Brief on Failed Geneva Process

Tomorrow afternoon (13 May), UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi will brief Security Council members in consultations on his activities since his last briefing on 13 March. That briefing took place shortly after the second round of peace talks, held in Geneva on 10-13 February, failed to deliver any tangible results towards a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

At the 13 March briefing, Brahimi said that talks could not progress due to the government’s intransigence—in particular regarding any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s future role—and that further rounds would be meaningless if there are no constructive ideas to break the stalemate between the government and the opposition. Brahimi also stressed that if a date for elections was set, it would mean the end of the Geneva process. Finally, he delivered grim predictions that without a political solution, Syria will likely become a failed state in 2015 with a death toll approaching 350,000.

Many Council members will be keen to get a read-out from Brahimi on his 2 May meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as they believe that Brahimi’s departure from the role of Joint Special Representative is imminent. If that is clarified, then Council members expect that they will need to start addressing the ramifications from Brahimi’s possible resignation and the Syrian government’s announcement of presidential elections for 3 June—in which Assad is expected to secure another seven year term. Many Council members have characterised the planned vote in the middle of a civil war as a sham election. These members would see value in the Council emphasising that free and fair elections should only be held in the context of a negotiated political settlement. However, Russia blocked a statement to this effect following Brahimi’s 13 March briefing and there were no indications at press time that such a statement was being sought again.

Council members will likely want Brahimi’s assessment of what next steps might be relevant in light of the upcoming polls. Council members might also want Brahimi’s views as to whether the mediation role should continue as a joint mandate with the Arab League and whether the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué—which called for the formation of a transitional governing body—should continue to be the basis of any renewed political track. Most Council members have tacitly accepted that the Geneva process has failed and may be interested in a discussion with Brahimi on lessons learnt as well as alternatives to this process.

Council members will also be interested in hearing from Brahimi about his visit to Tehran on 16 March after the collapse of the Geneva talks. It seems Iran presented to Brahimi its own plan for a solution to the Syrian crisis that reportedly prioritises fighting terrorism, endorses elections, makes room for a possible national unity government and foresees some role for Assad. Council members may want to hear Brahimi’s views on this proposal given that Iran’s participation in the Geneva process was never agreed upon. While Brahimi views positive engagement with Iran as crucial to any lasting solution in Syria, it is unclear to Council members whether he thinks the gaps between the Geneva Communiqué and Iran’s plan can be bridged to find a way forward .

During the Geneva process, Brahimi said repeatedly that all key players, including Iran, should be involved. However, Iran never accepted the Geneva Communiqué as a basis for a political transition, which in turn made it impossible for the US to accept Iran’s presence at the negotiating table. There were also hopes that the thaw in diplomatic relations between Iran and the US on the nuclear file would ease regional tensions. However, there has been no public indication that negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme have been used to leverage positive outcomes in Syria. Both Iran and the US seem to prefer to treat the nuclear file and Syria as discrete issues.

Besides tomorrow’s briefing, the next key moment for Council members on Syria will be a possible vote on a draft resolution referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The draft was circulated to all 15 members of the Council earlier today. It had been shared with P5 members on 7 May but apparently Russia did not engage in any serious discussion of the text. France has been working with the US on language that addresses some of the US’s concerns regarding jurisdiction, and it seems the US might now be ready to vote for such a referral. In addition, France has invited the broader UN membership to sponsor the draft, including the signatories of the 14 January 2013 letter sent by Switzerland requesting the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC (S/2013/19).

On the humanitarian track, many Council members remain frustrated that access has not appreciably improved since resolution 2139 was adopted on 22 February. Some Council members continue to speculate that there may be increased momentum for a vote on a draft resolution to strengthen the UN’s ability to deliver aid this month. On 29 May, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang is expected to brief Council members on the third monthly report about the implementation of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access.

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