Syria Briefing under “Any Other Business”
Tomorrow morning (10 October), Security Council members are expected to discuss the situation in Syria under “any other business”, following Turkey’s military offensive in north-eastern Syria, which began earlier today. The European members of the Council—Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and the UK—requested the meeting. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari and a senior OCHA official are expected to brief.
Turkey’s incursion in north-eastern Syria takes place on the heels of a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan on 6 October, in which Trump indicated that US troops would be withdrawn from the border area inside Syria and acceded to Turkey’s offensive. In a letter to the Security Council earlier today, Turkey reportedly cited article 51 of the UN Charter on self-defense as a reason for its intervention, saying that the operation is intended to ensure the security of its border and to fight terrorism. Turkey considers Kurdish forces in Syria to be terrorists, and it apparently maintains in its letter that the operation will counter Kurdish forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. At the General Assembly in September, Erdoğan called for the establishment of a “safe zone” to resettle Syrian refugees, but in its letter to the Council, Turkey reportedly said that negotiations with the US to establish “a safe zone free from terrorists” in north-eastern Syria had been “inconclusive”.
A number of Council members oppose the Turkish incursion into Syria. They recognise the key role that the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Forces) has played in fighting ISIL in Syria and believe that the operation risks exacerbating the security and humanitarian challenges in north-eastern Syria and prospects for political progress in the country. In a speech today at the European Parliament, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini stated that: “Military action will undermine the security of the coalition’s local partners, namely the Kurdish forces, and risk protracted instability in north-east Syria, providing fertile ground for the resurgence of Da’esh”. In a declaration on behalf of the EU, Mogherini said that it was unlikely that “a so-called ‘safe zone’ in north-east Syria, as envisaged by Turkey, would satisfy international criteria for refugee return as laid down by UNHCR” [the UN Refugee Agency]. At the same time, calling Turkey a key partner for the EU, Mogherini commended it for its role in hosting Syrian refugees, while adding that its “security concerns should be addressed through political and diplomatic means, not military action”. Several members, especially EU members of the UN Security Council, are likely to echo Mogherini’s views during tomorrow’s meeting.
Khiari’s briefing will probably be largely informational in nature, providing an update of recent developments in north-eastern Syria since the start of the Turkish operation. In this regard, media reports today indicated that there have been aerial and artillery attacks on Kurdish forces across the border. Council members may be interested in whether there has been diplomatic engagement by the UN with Turkey, Syria or other important stakeholders regarding Turkey’s intervention, and if so, what this engagement has entailed. They may also want to know what the UN’s next steps may be. Members may also be interested in the Secretariat’s view of whether the military operation could affect the political process in Syria, including the planned convening of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva on 30 October.
The OCHA briefer may discuss what impact the operation is having (and could potentially have) on civilian populations in north-eastern Syria. On 8 October, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement through his spokesman expressing concern about “the risk to civilians from any potential military actions” and emphasising that “civilians and civilian infrastructure need to be protected at all times”. With respect to the humanitarian situation more broadly, there is likely to be interest in knowing what measures the UN and its humanitarian partners can take to provide humanitarian assistance to the wounded, displaced and others in need in the area as a result of the fighting. In its letter to the Council, it seems that Turkey said that it would take all precautions to avoid harming civilians.