Islamic State Gains in Syria Push United Nations Into Action

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Recent military gains by Islamic State and the goodwill created with the Iran nuclear deal have prompted the United Nations into action to stop the carnage in Syria.

“The fear of black flags over Damascus is driving many to consider reassessing their own earlier positions,” Staffan De Mistura, UN special envoy on Syria, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday. There is a “growing reference to the need for a managed, phased, gradual or controlled transition, avoiding a repeat of Libya or Iraq.”

Four vetoes cast by Russia and China at the UN’s decision-making body have limited intervention in a crisis that began in 2011 with protesters demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster and has evolved into a region-wide conflict.

The Syrian war has since incubated Islamic State, which declared itself a caliphate last June and now controls an area covering more than 80,000 square miles across Iraq and Syria. At least 250,000 people have died and half the country’s population -- 12 million Syrians -- have fled their homes.

Four years on, De Mistura and his team are trying to come up with a “detailed formula” to break the deadlock after months of extensive talks around the globe with Syrians and non-Syrians. There’s still no consensus on how to implement a 2012 agreement calling for a transitional government with executive powers over all state institutions, including the military and the security and intelligence services, he said.

Working Groups

In a bid to overcome these divisions, the UN will form working groups around four themes: protection; political and constitutional issues; military and security; institutions, reconstruction and development. The goal will be to create a framework document and generate international support that will “lead to the formation of a contact group,” he said.

Another way to help break the impasse is to include Iran, whose involvement was blocked by the U.S. earlier in the conflict and before the breakthrough in nuclear talks in July.

We need to “build on political momentum generated by the nuclear deal between Iran and P5 plus 1,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, adding that the working groups could start in September. The UN needs to “use political dynamics generated by that solution for Syria and regional stability in general,” he said.

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