Syria Consultations on Russia-US Agreement
This afternoon, Council members will meet in consultations on Syria, called for by Russia and the US in order to brief members on their 10 September agreement on steps to be taken to reduce violence, enable humanitarian access, restore the February cessation of hostilities and fight terrorism. The agreement was reached following talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on 9 September.
While the general details of the agreement have been widely reported, the text has not been publicly released, apparently at the request of the US. Among the reasons given by the US for keeping the text secret is that if released it might provide terrorist groups with advance notice of possible operations against them. Russia, on the other hand, has made it clear that it wants the agreement to be made public and has expressed an interest in adopting a resolution endorsing the agreement during next week’s high-level meeting on Syria in the Council. While members appear supportive of the Russia-US agreement, many members are likely to need more information before they would be comfortable endorsing the agreement. It seems that this was raised at the Secretary-General’s lunch yesterday, and may have prompted the US and Russia to call for today’s consultations.
The provision of reducing violence over the next several days is expected to be a key focus of the briefing by Russia and the US. The nation-wide cessation of hostilities began at sun-down on Monday, 12 September. Members are aware that the cessation of hostilities is largely holding, but will be looking for information on how Russia and the US will work together to work together to respond to any violations.
Members are likely to have questions about the details regarding another integral aspect of the agreement: the provision of humanitarian aid and access to besieged areas during the cessation of hostilities period. They will be looking for a better understanding particularly of the possibility of delivery of aid to Aleppo through Castello Road. While there have been media reports of the demilitarisation of Castello Road, it is unclear what exactly this entails, and members will want information on how this will be monitored. Yesterday, Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that under the agreement the Syrian government was expected to provide authorisations but that these had not been received. Members may be interested in an update on when these authorisations are expected and how soon aid might get to Aleppo.
Media reports indicate that the agreement provides that if parties implement the cessation of hostilities and delivery of aid provisions of the agreement and adhere to them for seven days, a Joint Implementation Centre will be established to coordinate airstrikes by Russia and the US against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups. Yesterday, France publicly called for the US to share details of the agreement, expressing concern that armed opposition groups may be targeted. The issue of armed opposition groups’ tactical cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, has been an ongoing one in trying to negotiate a cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria. Members will want more information on how the Joint Information Centre will be able to distinguish Al-Nusra targets from other armed opposition groups.
While members are likely to be supportive of any agreement that could bring about positive change to the situation in Syria, some members may have concerns about the long-term implications of the agreement, and its possible impact on a solution to the crisis. It seems that even the US, while committed to the agreement, has expressed scepticism about the prospects of a sustained cessation of hostilities leading to a transition. Council members will be interested in hearing from Russia and the US their assessment of what threshold of compliance with the cessation of hostilities and the flow of humanitarian aid would be sufficient for political talks facilitated by the UN to resume.
Looking ahead, the International Syria Support Group is expected to meet in New York on Tuesday (20 September) for a session chaired by Kerry and Lavrov. The following day, the Council will have a high-level meeting on Syria, where the Secretary-General and possibly de Mistura will brief. Although a draft resolution has not been circulated yet, Council members are expecting to adopt a resolution at this meeting.
Postscript: The 16 September consultations on the Russia-US agreement for a cessation of hostilities in Syria was cancelled at the last minute. It seems Russia and the US disagreed about how much information to share with other Council members.