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Syria: Briefing after Vienna and Sochi Meetings

Tomorrow (14 February), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. At the meeting, which will be followed by consultations, de Mistura is expected to brief Council members on the ninth round of the intra-Syrian talks held on 25-26 January in Vienna and the conference held in Sochi at the initiative of Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, on 29-30 January.

The briefing is happening in the midst of a marked intensification of violence in Syria. In a 10 February statement, Secretary-General António Guterres characterised the current moment as “one of the most violent periods in nearly seven years of conflict”. Mentioning deadly airstrikes leading to civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated the same day that “[t]he term 'de-escalation area' is becoming all too reminiscent of the so-called ‘safe areas’ in Bosnia, which proved anything but safe”. The Humanitarian Coordinator and other UN representatives in Syria have called for a cessation of hostilities of at least one month to improve the humanitarian situation, and in response to this call, Kuwait and Sweden (the humanitarian penholders on Syria in the Council) have distributed a draft resolution which is currently being negotiated.

Furthermore, several factors—increased tensions between Israel and Syria, deadly clashes between the US-led coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and pro-government forces, and Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin—have further intensified tensions among member states involved in Syria. De Mistura is expected to brief Council members on the impact that developments on the ground, particularly the military escalation, is having on the efforts to bring the parties together.

Council members are likely to be interested in de Mistura’s assessment of the ninth round of the intra-Syrian talks held in Vienna. De Mistura is expected to reiterate his concerns with the lack of substantive engagement by the government delegation and to call on those with influence on the parties to exert their leverage to bring about direct talks on the agenda established by resolution 2254.

De Mistura may also brief Council members on the Sochi meeting in which he participated in late January. At the end of the meeting, which was boycotted by key opposition groups, a final statement captured previously discussed principles regarding the end-state of a transition in Syria and included an agreement to form a constitutional committee. De Mistura is expected to brief the Council on efforts to reach agreement on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the constitutional committee. While Iran, Russia and Turkey submitted candidate proposals for the committee, the final decision on its composition (which is expected to comprise the government, a widely-representative opposition delegation, and civil society) is to be made by de Mistura. Today the government of Syria reportedly questioned the legitimacy of such a committee. Council members may stress the importance of ensuring inclusivity and the genuine engagement of the parties in the committee.

As polarisation grows on the chemical weapons and humanitarian dossiers in the Council, de Mistura is expected to explain how he is planning to overcome the current political deadlock, and what actions by Council members, collectively or bilaterally, can help bring about constructive change.

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