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Closed Consultations on the Political Situation in Syria

On Monday (19 July), Council members will convene in person for closed consultations on the political situation in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is scheduled to brief the Council via videoconference (VTC).

Monday’s consultations will be the first Council session on Syria’s political situation since the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2585 of 9 July, which renewed the mandate of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism to Syria. Resolution 2585 authorises UN agencies and humanitarian partners to continue to utilise the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border for a period of six months, until 10 January 2022, with an extension of an additional six months until 10 July 2022 “subject to the issuance of the Secretary General’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs”. The adoption of resolution 2585 was the Council’s first unanimous renewal of the cross-border mechanism since December 2016 and has been widely hailed as an important moment in Russia-US relations and as a rare moment of Council unity on the Syria file. Speaking to the Council after the resolution’s adoption, most Council members lauded the cooperation and consensus-building that enabled the unanimous passage of resolution 2585. Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, stated that “we are witnessing a historic moment.… We hope that this kind of day will be a turning point”.

In the context of seemingly improved Council dynamics on Syria, Council members might want to use the closed format to have a frank discussion with Pedersen on how the cooperative spirit displayed on 9 July can be parlayed into progress on the political track and the implementation of resolution 2254. Resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015 calls for, among other things, the creation of a new constitution for Syria and for elections to be administered under UN supervision. Pedersen is likely to reiterate the view that he expressed when briefing the Council on 25 June, when he stated that Council unity is crucial both for the renewal of the cross-border mechanism and for the political process. In welcoming the 9 July adoption of resolution 2585, Pedersen expressed hope that the “decision can be the beginning of building more international unity” and emphasised that “key states” had found “common ground” after pursuing “high-level diplomacy”, a theme he has underlined on numerous occasions.

Pedersen is also likely to update Council members on his recent efforts to promote his initiative for an international dialogue on Syria. In his 25 June briefing, he noted that such a dialogue aims to “discuss concrete steps…that should be reciprocal and mutual, defined with realism and precision, implemented in parallel and verifiable”. He said at that time that while much of the focus on Syria centred on the renewal of the cross-border mechanism, he would “deepen exploratory substantive consultations that [will] help identify the very first steps that Syrian and international players could deliver”. Pedersen is likely to describe his recent bilateral engagement with Russian and Turkish officials, his outreach to the government in Damascus and the Syrian political opposition, and the outcomes of his meetings with a wide array of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the 28 June ministerial meeting in Rome as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. He may also brief Council members on his additional engagement with members of the Astana Format (Russia, Turkey and Iran) whom he had met in Kazakhstan on 7 and 8 July as part the Astana Format’s 16th International Meeting on Syria. Council members are likely to seek further details on the responses to Pedersen’s proposal for increased international dialogue during these international engagements and may wish to learn more on the format, and potential timelines of the envisioned dialogue.

Pedersen is also likely to brief on progress in organising a sixth round of the Constitutional Committee. On 25 June, Pedersen told the Council that the committee “is not yet working expeditiously to produce results and continued progress on its agreed mandate”. Nonetheless, he said that he endeavoured to “facilitate [an] agreement [between] the Syrian co-chairs” that would allow them to address “existing challenges”, which have reportedly included the need to set out a series of clear goals for the committee’s work, an agreed methodology and a workplan. He further confirmed that he would “immediately set in motion the planning for a sixth session in Geneva” only once such an agreement is reached. On 7 July, however, Pedersen offered a more optimistic tone on the committee’s next steps when he told the press that he was currently in discussions with the co-chairs and hoped they could “soon…have an agreement that can make it possible for us to meet again”. Pedersen may tell the Council that if the co-chairs can reach such an agreement, a sixth round of the Constitutional Committee could be organised in August.

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