The United Nations special envoy for Syria said on Monday that international diplomacy is crucial to ending Syria’s 10-year war.
Geir Pedersen told the Security Council that it is important to establish a new format to unite the key nations with influence in the conflict, including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Arab states and the European Union.
Syria “is among the most deeply internationalized conflicts of a generation, and many of the issues that matter most to Syrians are not even in Syrian hands,” he added.
After recent visits to Russia, Syria and Turkey, and virtual talks with other parties on how to move a political process forward, he said he believes it is time for “quiet diplomacy.”
“Over time, we may need to try to launch a new medium of international discussion, a new international format for the necessary diplomacy and cooperation,” Pedersen said in his virtual briefing to the council from Geneva.
Speaking to reporters later, he said he has not decided on a format yet, but “it is important that we establish this new international format in a way that attracts all the different parties that have influence in the conflict.”
Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States are militarily involved in Syria and must participate in a new international effort in addition to the Arab states, the EU and the five permanent members of the Security Council that would be added by China, Britain and France, he said.
Since the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011, there have been many high-level meetings designed to stop the fighting and guide Syria into a political transition.
Destinations included Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Geneva, including assemblies with names like “Friends of Syria” and “London 11”. In 2016 it was the “Syrian International Support Group”. Neither has had a lasting impact.
Pedersen said it is still “the early days” for the Biden administration and deeper discussions with all parties are needed before launching a new international format.
“The key for me is that it is now necessary for all these actors to sit down seriously and develop a Syrian policy based on the understanding that none of them can dictate the outcome of the Syrian conflict,” he said.
Calling it a “bleak anniversary,” Pedersen said the Syrian conflict, which has suffered some 500,000 deaths, has lasted “roughly the duration of World War I and World War II combined.”
“The Syrian people are among the greatest victims of this century,” he said. “They have seen their middle-income country dragged into de-development and destitution on such a scale that it will take generations to rebuild.
Pedersen pointed to the corruption, mismanagement, sanctions and economic collapse that have left nine out of 10 Syrians living in poverty.
In the midst of the tragedy, Pedersen said, there has been a “ray of light”: the front lines have not changed for a year since a ceasefire in northwestern Syria and there has been “relative calm.”
In Syrian terms, that still means shelling and rocket fire along lines of contact, air strikes from Syrian and foreign parties, violent riots and actions by terrorist groups, he said.
“The greatest danger of all is that the fragile calm will fade, giving rise to a new storm of total conflict and all that it would mean for Syrians, the region and beyond,” he said. “The other danger Syria faces is that even if the calm does not collapse, a prolonged stasis sets in and the Syrian people endure a new decade of despair, dejection and despair.”
Pedersen said the Syrians must negotiate a deal in a Syrian-led process convened by the United Nations to implement a Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015.
The resolution, approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the UN, the Arab League, the EU, Turkey and the five permanent members of the Security Council, unanimously approved a roadmap towards peace in Syria.
It calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, followed by the drafting of a new constitution and ending with UN-supervised elections.
Necessary international effort
But Pedersen said: “I am absolutely convinced that they will not make much progress if a Syrian-led process is not supported by constructive international diplomacy on Syria.”
With very little trust and a lack of trust among Syrians and among major international rivals, he said, a way must be found “around the ‘you first’ syndrome that characterizes much of diplomacy in Syria.”
“What is needed is to identify with realism and precision, and implement in parallel, mutual and reciprocal step by step, step by step, of the Syrian and international actors,” said Pedersen.
He said he discussed his thoughts on breaking problems into component parts “and moving in unison to make steady progress” during his recent visits and conversations.
Pedersen said that progress in unlocking progress in the release and accountability of detainees, abductees and missing persons would be “an important humanitarian gesture, a vital trust builder, a signal for all Syrians and a switch in the context of the international diplomacy “.
The move to break the deadlock in drafting a new constitution could also be “a pillar of intra-Syrian cooperation,” he said.
The sixth round of talks between the government and the opposition “must be different from what has happened before,” Pedersen concluded.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism