The international community must build on several significant new developments in the Syria negotiation process, including a round of technical meetings attended by representatives of three opposition groups, the senior United Nations official in that country said today.
Briefing the Security Council via videoconference from Geneva this morning, Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, described recent developments as a “mixed picture”. In addition to the first round of technical consultative meetings announced during his last briefing, serious efforts had continued in the area of de-escalation ahead of the next round of peace talks, expected to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan, in July.
“We are at a time of testing whether the political will exists” to move beyond preparatory talks, he said, recalling that the new technical expert meetings were intended to develop options on constitutional and legal issues in order to help the formal negotiations progress more expeditiously. Drawing a parallel with a similar experience in Afghanistan, where preparatory work had been put into action ahead of a formal conference, he said the Government of Syria and three separate opposition invitees had all agreed to participate.
He went on to say that in a significant new development, expert representatives of the three opposition groups had convened in the same room in Geneva just days ago, marking the first time such a joint meeting had taken place. “We must build on this,” he emphasized, adding that the participants had developed technical options for the drafting of a new constitution, among other things. The meeting had brought to light some welcome similarities on various issues and could potentially mark the beginning of greater technical cooperation among the three groups, he said, noting that they had been invited to participate in further joint technical meetings next week, ahead of July’s seventh round of intra-Syrian talks.
Pointing out that the Government had also agreed to participate in technical meetings within the framework of formal negotiations, he said the United Nations remained ready to engage with Government experts at any mutually convenient time. He also voiced hope that all participants would engage in an intensified set of discussions across all four “baskets” on the agenda — governance, constitution, elections and counter-terrorism efforts — that the meetings would help accelerate the Syria peace talks, and that a further round of meetings would be held in late August or early September.
Outlining his team’s engagement with Syrian women’s organizations and civil society advisers, he went on to note that a meeting of the three guarantor States (Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey) was planned for 4-5 July. The issue of de-escalation remained critical, he said in that regard, emphasizing that fragility and risk would increase “without a final arrangement for the de-escalation zones”. Urging the Council to give the zones “a fair chance to succeed”, he pointed out that although violence was down in a number of towns, the fighting continued or had even escalated in others. Indeed, the overall security situation had, regrettably, not improved and much more must be done to ensure sustained humanitarian access for all Syrians.
Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) expressed interest in the planned participation of civil society and women’s organizations in discussions that should address the four clusters of the road map, among other subjects. Describing a range of concerns, he cited the lack of full United Nations access to certain areas and the opposition’s fragmentation. Stressing that the Geneva and Astana processes were related, he urged participants to remain around the negotiation table.
Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan) called upon Council members to use their influence to help the ongoing talks succeed, noting that a joint approach would help to produce a ceasefire and end the violence. In addition, formal technical meetings of experts could become an opportunity to unite opposing platforms. In searching for an exit strategy, a regional approach should be considered, he said, calling on all Middle East and Gulf States to ensure that the ceasefire was honoured. On terrorism, he called upon coalition forces in Raqqa and other areas to exercise caution so as to avoid accidental civilian deaths, and to avoid attacking critical infrastructure.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 10:35 a.m.