What's In Blue

Posted Mon 9 Nov 2015

Special Envoy for Syria to Brief Ahead of Vienna Talks

Tomorrow afternoon (10 November), Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will brief Council members in consultations under “any other business” on the prospects for progress on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. His briefing comes ahead of the next round of Vienna talks slated for this Saturday, 14 November. (Separately tomorrow, Council members will also have their regular monthly briefing on the chemical weapons track.)

De Mistura last briefed the Council on 29 July, when he announced that his office would facilitate intra-Syrian working groups on ways to implement the June 2012 Geneva Communiqué. However, recent events, in particular the Russian military intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, overshadowed de Mistura’s mediation efforts and led to Russia and the US convening international talks on Syria in late October.

On 23 October, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Vienna to discuss Syria with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The UN was not invited to the first round of Vienna talks, nor were permanent Council members France and the UK and regional power Iran. However, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US reconvened on 29 October to meet with an expanded set of participants including: the UN and the EU; the remaining P5 members China, France and the UK; regional countries Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and the UAE; and European countries Germany and Italy. It was the first time that Iran participated in international talks aimed at finding a common position on a political solution to the war in Syria. But Syrians were not included in these talks; neither the government nor any opposition representative were invited to attend.

A Joint Statement was released from Vienna on 30 October that invited the UN to convene government and opposition representatives for a political process leading to credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections held under UN supervision. The UN was also given a role in exploring modalities for implementing a nationwide ceasefire. Council members will likely be interested to have de Mistura elaborate on how his existing mediation efforts at the national level will coalesce with international and regional positions emanating from the Vienna talks.

Shortly after the late October talks in Vienna, de Mistura traveled to Damascus, Moscow and Washington DC. Council members will want de Mistura’s assessment of how the Vienna Joint Statement is being perceived in relation to the June 2012 Geneva Communiqué in these capitals. While the Joint Statement referenced the Geneva Communiqué, it did not explicitly include the call for a transitional governing body or the need for the protection of civilians—both of which are central elements of the Geneva Communiqué. Some Council members feel that what is not in the Joint Statement is as significant as what is included.

Last week, the P3 drafted a press statement welcoming the Vienna talks. However, it seems Russia had a strong preference to include language in the draft that would “endorse” the Joint Statement. The P3 did not want to “endorse” the Joint Statement and believed that it was important to keep the focus on the Geneva Communiqué as the guiding framework for a political transition in Syria. In the end, no press release was issued.

While Council members recognize that getting Iran and Saudi Arabia to sit at the same negotiating table is a breakthrough, they also note that the positions of the P5 and regional actors, in particular regarding the role of Assad, have not yet shifted sufficiently to tip the balance towards a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Russia, Syria and Iran have signaled support for a political solution but are reiterating well-known positions regarding power-sharing (versus a transitional government), and sequencing such power-sharing only within the context of a united effort against “terrorism”, elections and talks with a “healthy” opposition. Iran and Russia have also publicly stated that they are not wedded to Assad but have not yet noticeably used their leverage to significantly rein in the government’s behavior.

The P3 and some regional states have modified their stance on Assad’s role in a political transition, indicating that the timing of his exit from power did not have to be immediate. This has been a private position for some time but has only recently been signaled publicly.

While many Council members are eager to hear more about de Mistura’s post-Vienna meetings, they also acknowledge that no envoy would be able to forge a political solution in the absence of a major shift on the part of external actors.

Looking ahead, it seems possible there will be an Arria Formula meeting with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria this Thursday (12 November). Stephen O’Brien, the head of OCHA, will brief on the humanitarian situation next Monday (16 November).

Meanwhile, the draft resolution on indiscriminate attacks in Syria, drafted by France, Spain and the UK, is unlikely to be circulated to the entire Council membership anytime soon. The drafters will reassess the climate in the Council after the next round of talks in Vienna.