What's In Blue

Posted Mon 8 Feb 2021

Syria: Meeting on Political Developments

Tomorrow (9 February), Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen is scheduled to brief Security Council members on the political situation in Syria in closed videoconference consultations.

Pedersen is likely to focus his briefing on the fifth round of meetings of the Constitutional Committee, which was held in Geneva during the week of 25 January. During his last briefing to the Council on 20 January, Pedersen expressed hope that the Committee would initiate discussions on constitutional principles in accordance with the agreed meeting agenda and possibly even start the process of drafting a new constitution. The fifth round, however, did not achieve any discernable progress and concluded without an agreement to meet for a sixth round of talks.

Speaking to the press at the conclusion of the meetings on 29 January, Pedersen explained that the Committee had become ensnarled in disagreements on the approach to the meetings even before they began: on Sunday, 24 January, the day before the session began, Pedersen spoke with the two co-chairs to try to reach an agreement on how the week’s meetings would proceed. The opposition co-chair presented an approach that included proposing language on elements of a draft constitution, which was rejected by the government co-chair. Pedersen himself suggested a proposal to the two co-chairs for, in his words, “the work on the two first days of the Committee”, which was also rejected by the government side.  He added, “we need the two Co-Chairs to work better together, via me – or they sit down and discuss. And we need to produce then a workplan for how the meetings will be organised in the future”.

Although Pedersen is likely to echo much of what he expressed at his press briefing, Council members will be interested to hear a more detailed appraisal of the Committee’s most recent meeting, how the parties engaged in the discussions, and what steps Pedersen intends to take to advance the political process. Given the largely negative tone of Pedersen’s 29 January press briefing, many Council members are likely to state that the political track has been too slow, has yielded few results and that a new approach needs to be considered. While some members, including the US, UK and France, have become openly concerned about the failure of the Constitutional Committee to achieve anything after more than a year of meetings, others such as China and Russia have argued that there should be no externally imposed timelines on the process and have cautioned that more patience is needed. Most Council members will want to gain a deeper understanding from the Special Envoy of the steps that need to be taken—by the Special Envoy himself, by the parties and by external actors—if the stalled process is to be reinvigorated. Some may even call for the development of a new approach.

Pedersen may also give an overview of his recent and ongoing bilateral talks with the parties of the Constitutional Committee, as well as with external actors, on the political track. Pedersen explained on 29 January that he hoped to travel to Damascus imminently; Council members will want to know how these plans are proceeding and what he expects from further engagement with Damascus on the future of the Committee.

Pedersen may also describe his recent meetings with members of the configuration referred to as the Astana guarantors, which consists of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The Astana group members, having met on the margins of the Constitutional Committee, issued a joint statement on 28 January which “expressed their view that the work of the Constitutional Committee should be governed by a sense of compromise and constructive engagement…aimed at reaching general agreement of its members that would enable the outcome to receive the widest possible support by the Syrian people”. In addition to hearing about Pedersen’s recent engagement with the Astana guarantors, members may want to know about his intentions and goals for upcoming meetings with the new US administration, European member states, and countries in the region.

In light of recent violent incidents in Syria’s north, Pedersen may also address developments with regard to the security situation in Syria. According to international media reports, at least two dozen people were killed as a result of two separate car bombs being detonated in towns near the Syrian-Turkish border. In one incident, in the town of Azaz, a car bomb attack took place outside an administrative building on 31 January. On the same day, a car bomb was detonated at a checkpoint outside the town of Beza’a.