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Syria: Special Envoy Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (16 May), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, followed by consultations.

Last month, the alleged chemical weapons attack of 7 April on the city of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, led to one of the Council’s most divisive periods in the post-Cold War era. In an effort to address the Council’s polarisation, Syria was added to the agenda of the Secretary-General’s retreat with Council members that took place in Sweden on 21-22 April. De Mistura, who participated in the retreat, shared with Council members his frank assessment of the limited traction of the Geneva process and efforts to reach a political settlement. The difficult Council dynamics on this issue were also discussed during the retreat. Tomorrow he is expected to brief Council members on the series of consultations that he has undertaken with major stakeholders in the conflict. Council members may be interested in de Mistura’s assessment of options for a meaningful re-launch of the UN-facilitated political process. An issue that may come up in consultations is any efforts members may have made since the retreat to bridge the current divisions in the Council.

De Mistura is also expected to brief the Council on his work to bring about a constitutional committee, including defining its mandate and terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for its composition. The establishment of a constitutional committee was the main outcome of a January conference hosted in Sochi by Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, but the Syrian government has repeatedly questioned its legitimacy.

Council members may want more details about the 14-15 May meeting in Astana convened by Iran, Russia and Turkey, with the participation of delegations from the government and armed groups, in which de Mistura participated as an observer. Since the beginning of the year, military offensives by the government, with its backers, have particularly targeted two of the de-escalation zones established by the Astana process, namely northern Homs and Eastern Ghouta. Another issue discussed in Astana was the situation of abductees, detainees and missing persons. While a working group was established to address this issue, there has been little progress. Turkey will organise a meeting of the working group next month, which may be of interest to members.

Tomorrow’s meeting will provide the first opportunity for Council members to react to last week’s escalation of violence between Israel and Iran. While tension between both countries has been a factor in the Syrian conflict for a long time, the Council has not discussed it in detail. On 8 May Israel launched an attack on a military position south of Damascus, claiming it was needed to thwart an impending attack by Iran. On 9 May, Iran attacked Israeli outposts in the occupied Golan Heights. Israel responded the next day by attacking Iranian military installations in Syria, after which Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed that almost all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria had been destroyed. Council members may ask de Mistura for his assessment of the repercussions on Syria of the latest regional developments, and may take this opportunity to discuss other regional aspects of the Syrian conflict.

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