In Rare Show of Unity, UN Paves Way for Talks on Syrian Conflict

  • UN presidential statements are largely symbolic, non-binding
  • There have been four vetoes in the past on Syria resolutions

The United Nations’ decision-making body, crippled into inaction on Syria by four Russia vetoes, unanimously supported preparatory talks to break the deadlock in a four-year conflict that has unraveled into the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The UN Security Council on Monday adopted a presidential statement backing UN Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura’s plan to hold simultaneous discussions among Syrian parties on the protection of civilians, reconstruction as well as the thornier political and military sticking points.

After more than 230,000 dead and 12 million displaced, Syria has come to represent one of the biggest failures of a post-war international body designed to help resolve the world’s most intractable conflicts. De Mistura, the latest in a string of special Syria envoys, is trying to implement a 2012 agreement for a transitional government that never materialized.

At the time, the survival of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime seemed to hang in the balance. Now the more urgent challenge is posed by the spread of Islamic State, the self-style caliphate enslaving local communities across huge swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The council’s presidential statements are non-binding and largely symbolic. Still, it comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region after the conclusion of a seven-nation deal last month on Iran’s nuclear program. Over the past two years, U.S. and Iranian officials had hinted that there could be regional cooperation after a successful outcome to the nuclear talks.

Limited Success

The UN, with little success, has made multiple efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to a fully-blown regional conflict that began with peaceful protests in the capital of Damascus in March 2011. The first special UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, had said Iran was key to bringing the war to an end.

UN officials and Security Council diplomats expect the parallel discussions to begin next month when four working groups will be created. While the council’s statement didn’t explicitly mention the need for an international contact group to support De Mistura’s initiative, three council diplomats said Russia, the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia will function as such.

At the same time, top diplomats of Russia and Iran warned against attempts at ousting Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it is “unacceptable” for foreign governments to want to agree that Assad would leave his post by the end of a transitional period that would allow Syria’s opposition to gain power.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who is visiting Moscow said Iran and Russia “share the same position on the Syrian crisis.” 

The two countries are Assad’s biggest backers.

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