Syria: Briefings on the Humanitarian and Political Situations
Tomorrow morning (28 July), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien will provide his first briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria to the Council. The following day, Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will provide his first public briefing to the Council on the political track. The Secretary-General will participate. Council members are discussing the possibility of a statement in support of the Special Envoy, but the format, substance and timing of any possible outcome remained unclear at press time.
On Tuesday, O’Brien will likely highlight that all parties are failing in their obligation to protect civilians. Rather, the fight for territory and resources is being marked by indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including by barrel bombs. Many Council members expect that O’Brien will set the stage for de Mistura’s briefing the next day by conveying the observation in the Secretary-General’s latest report that the humanitarian situation “bears unflinching witness to the urgent need to find a political settlement to this ruinous conflict”.
Some Council members expect O’Brien may keep tomorrow’s briefing closely aligned with the observations and facts in the Secretary-General’s report so as not to jeopardise his plans to visit Damascus in the near future. During the consultations that will follow his briefing, many Council members will be interested to hear more from O’Brien on what his objectives are for the visit and how his approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria may differ from his predecessor’s.
On Wednesday, de Mistura will present the Council with the results of the Geneva consultations launched on 5 May, as well as offer options on ways the political track can be maintained. These consultations were convened to find areas of commonality among Syrian actors, regional actors and the P5 for implementing the Geneva Communiqué, a plan agreed in June 2012 that has been continually stymied over the role of President Bashar al-Assad in any political transition and has been complicated by the presence of ISIS in Syria.
Council members are of the view that these consultations were not convened in order to achieve an immediate and concrete political solution, thus the intentional avoidance by de Mistura and his office of using the word “talks”. They were undertaken in order to keep a mediation process alive despite the prevailing climate of insufficient political will among the major domestic and international actors to untangle what has become known as the “Assad knot” enshrined in the Geneva Communiqué—i.e., trying to find openings between Iran’s and Russia’s support for the Assad regime and the position of the P3 and their Arab allies that Assad must go.
Some Council members expect that de Mistura will announce a proposal for his office to facilitate intra-Syrian discussions on ways to implement the Geneva Communiqué by forming working groups that focus on security issues (including counter-terrorism), national dialogue, state institutions and the humanitarian situation. He is also likely to send a strong message to the Council that the results emanating from such intra-Syrian working groups will require strong international support.
During consultations with de Mistura following his briefing, Council members may want him to elaborate on how these working groups could reconcile the Syrian opposition’s position that the international community must revitalise the Geneva Communiqué and force the regime to meaningfully negotiate, with the Syrian government’s position that it is too early for another round of UN talks. Some Council members may also be interested in more information on how key players in the international community—such as Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US—can support the UN’s mediation efforts. Council members may also want de Mistura to provide his own insights on what the recently concluded Iran nuclear deal and the fresh agreement between the US and Turkey on creating an “ISIS-free zone” or “safe zone” in northern Syria might mean in terms of regional cooperation, and what the political implications might be for a solution to the Syrian crisis.
On 30 June, the third anniversary of the Geneva Communiqué, Ban said that the Security Council could not afford to waste further time in ending the cycle of violence, and that the cost of further delay is unacceptable to all—strategically, politically and morally. Council members have consistently echoed the Secretary-General’s calls for a political solution and have uniformly supported de Mistura’s efforts. However, many Council members acknowledge that the recent round of discussions, and any proposals emanating from them, may be little more than a place holder and that no envoy would be able to forge a political solution in the absence of a major shift on the part of external actors.