Officials in Damascus have rejected the United Nations formulation of a list of participants to make up a constitutional committee intended to move the political process in Syria forward, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria told the Security Council today.
Reaffirming the urgent need to convene the proposed constitutional committee as quickly as possible, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said by teleconference from Beirut: “We do have a serious challenge, let’s be frank.” He briefed the Council after his 24 October consultations in Damascus with Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister aimed at trying to resolve outstanding issues in convening the constitutional committee. Its formation was approved by the Sochi agreement, signed by the Government of Syria and the Astana guarantors, comprising the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran.
Today’s meeting followed up on the Special Envoy’s 17 October briefing (see press release SC/13543) in which he asserted the importance of convening the committee to seize the political momentum generated by recent agreements on Idlib and vowed to vigorously pursue progress “until the last hour” of his tenure at the end of November. During that briefing, he also signalled apparent Government dissatisfaction with the list of civil society participants proposed for the committee, which was drawn up by the United Nations in consultation with the guarantors and in accordance with the Sochi conference.
In Damascus, he said, the Foreign Minister’s objections to the list were related to concerns over respect for Syria’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States. Giving assurances of his adherence to and respect for those principles, the Special Envoy said that he offered to work out a list immediately with the Syrian Government, but the Foreign Minister deferred such discussions until the next meeting with the Astana guarantors.
He went on to emphasize that he is not opposed to constructive suggestions regarding the list as long as it maintain the credibility, balance and legitimacy of civil society groups, as well as the substantive participation of women. At the same time, he urged all stakeholders not to miss out on the opportunity presented by the Idlib agreements. He reiterated his pledge to exhaust every avenue to progress, noting that important meetings are planned in the next few weeks for that purpose.
Following the briefing, Security Council members affirmed their strong support for his efforts and for convening the constitutional committee, as a first step towards a Syrian-led political solution to the devastating eight-year-long conflict. Some members expressed disappointment with the setback occasioned by Syria’s rejection of the United Nations list of civil society participants, emphasizing that the constitutional committee should meet by the end of November.
In that vein, the representatives of the United States, France and the United Kingdom – members of the “Small Group” for progress in Syria – warned against further delays, saying they risked squandering the opportunities presented by the Idlib agreements. They also opposed the notion that United Nations participation is inappropriate or threatens Syria’s sovereignty.
Representatives of China, Russian Federation and Bolivia, among others, welcomed the Special Envoy’s Damascus meeting as indicating diplomatic activity that could lead to a Syrian-led political solution, and to progress soon, with due regard to Syria’s sovereignty. The formulation of the committee should meet the concerns of all parties, they emphasized.
The Russian Federation’s representative stressed that diplomatic progress requires patience. Expressing scepticism over the motives of those who called today’s meeting so soon after the Special Envoy’s previous briefing, he said there is no precedent for briefings following individual meetings that are part of a sustained diplomatic effort.
Syria’s representative, rejecting allegations that his country is not cooperating with the United Nations, noted that the Government of Syria participated in the Sochi conference in good faith. The decision to establish a constitutional committee was first reached there, and Syria is now actively working to establish that committee with the facilitation – but not the guardianship - of the United Nations. “Establishing artificial deadlines will not help us to realize our aspirations,” he said. Warning States not to rely on the “arrogance of strength”, he added that the Charter prohibits all countries from meddling in the internal affairs of others.
Also speaking today were representatives of Sweden, Netherlands, Peru, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 9:03 a.m. and ended at 10:43 a.m.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefed members via teleconference from Beirut on his 24 October consultations in Damascus with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. He said that they discussed the formulation of a constitutional committee as a step towards a political resolution of the Syrian conflict. In general, he added, the Minister did not accept a role for the United Nations in selecting the list of prospective members of the proposed committee, particularly the so-called “middle list” of civil society participants, in view of the principle of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. Instead, the Minister proposed that the three Astana guarantors (Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran) work out a list with the Government of Syria and present it to the United Nations.
Recalling the reported terms of the Sochi agreements, in which the committee’s formulation was agreed for the purpose of constitutional reform in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), he said that he offered “there and then” to work with the of Syrian Government on establishing the list of participants. The Minister then proposed withdrawing the current middle list, he said, adding that he agreed with withdrawing the current list if a new one, consistent with the resolution, could be drawn up. He called for the proposed new list to be inclusive, balanced and ethnically diverse. The Minister then said that drawing up a new list would have to await the outcome of the next meeting with the Astana guarantors. “We do have a serious challenge, let’s be frank,” he said, emphasizing that, in the remaining period of his mandate, he will work hard for the convening of the committee.
Making clear that the list of participants proposed by the United Nations was based on consultations with the guarantors following the Sochi agreement, he emphasized that he is not opposed to moderate and constructive suggestions for the list as long as they maintain the credibility, balance and legitimacy of the middle group, including the substantive participation of women. At the same time, all involved should not miss the opportunity of the Idlib window. Noting that he plans to meet tomorrow with leaders of France, Germany, Russian Federation and Turkey, he said that he will remind them that a catastrophe in Idlib has been avoided so far, and that a balanced constitutional committee should be convened as soon as possible. He pledged that for the remainder of his mandate, he will exhaust every avenue to support the convening of a Syrian-owned, Syrian-led committee that is balanced and contributes to the peace process. The support of world leaders, including the Astana guarantors, is crucial for that purpose, he stressed.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said his delegation stands united, alongside the other “Small Group” countries – Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom – and with other like-minded States, behind the notion that Syria’s constitutional committee process should move swiftly forward in November. Emphasizing that the United Nations has exclusive control over that process and its scope of work, he warned that any further delays are unacceptable and risk squandering the successful prevention of military escalation in Idlib Governorate. The Special Envoy must enjoy full control over the constitutional committee’s make-up, he said, emphasizing that there is no alternative to a United Nations-led political process and “that process must move forward now”.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that Syria stands at a crossroads where it can either tip into another dark military escalation or press forward with the political process, said “there is a narrow window of opportunity”, perhaps for the first time in seven years. The choice depends largely on the Council’s ability to unite around the option of peace, he said, adding that the constitutional committee must serve as a turning point. The key to peace is held, in large part, by the Russian Federation, which must use its full weight in Damascus to promote the constitutional committee process, he emphasized. Expressing concern over Syria’s continued obstruction, he said it appears that the regime does not consider itself bound by the commitments it has already signed. The United Nations and its partners must redouble their efforts to get the political process off the ground, he stressed, warning that the risk of a fresh tragedy in the conflict has not yet been ruled out. The next few weeks will be crucial, he said, adding that the Council should meet as often as necessary to ensure the political process begins in a timely manner.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said national sovereignty is not the core issue in addressing the long-standing Syrian conflict or the needs of the millions of refugees that have fled its borders. Just as it was right for the United Nations to be involved in the response, it is also right that it should be involved in Syria’s political process, she said. It seems that either the Russian Federation has “given the Council assurances it is too weak to deliver on” or that those assurances were mere smokescreens aimed at diverting international attention while Syria and Iran perpetrate a military campaign on Idlib that was only interrupted by Turkey’s intervention and the outrage of the international community. Demanding more clarity on the Syrian regime’s current thinking – and on the Russian Federation’s role and commitment to work alongside the Special Envoy – she underlined the need to ensure that the Idlib agreement holds and that resolution 2254 (2015) will be firmly upheld. “We must hear today from all Council members that they will do their very best to support the political process as it moves forward.”
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) expressed disappointment over the continued lack of cooperation by the Government of Syria in relation to the constitutional committee, saying it contradicts the outcome of the Sochi meeting. Expressing support for the Special Envoy’s mandate to establish such a committee – constituting the first step towards a political solution in accordance with Council resolution 2254 (2015) – he described the Special Envoy’s intensified efforts as a “make-it-or-break-it” moment for the endeavours of the United Nations. “The Special Envoy needs the wholehearted backing of this Council,” he emphasized, reiterating his call for the Government to engage fully in the political process and ensure that real progress will be made before the Council’s next meeting on the issue in November.
MA ZHAOXU (China), describing the situation in Syria as calm due to the efforts of the Syrian parties, said that any political process in which Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected should be supported. The composition of the constitutional committee must be done in a way that meets the concerns of all parties, he emphasized, urging the Special Envoy to properly leverage the outcome of the Astana process and forge a compromise that satisfies all sides. Meanwhile, it is necessary to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the ceasefire in Idlib, he said, pledging China’s full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to shepherd a Syrian-led political process.
KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) emphasized that now is the time – under the auspices of the outgoing Special Envoy – to launch Syria’s constitutional committee. The political process must be credible, balanced, inclusive and representative of all Syrians, he said, stressing that the autonomy of the United Nations itself is, therefore, essential. “Meaningful commitment of the Syrian Government is now needed, it is not an arbitrary deadline,” he stressed, warning against “endlessly moving the goalposts”. The implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) is the only path forward and cannot be circumvented, he said, adding that the constitutional committee is not a goal in itself but part of a broader United Nations-led political process based on that critical resolution and on the Geneva Communiqué.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), expressing concern over the latest developments in the Syrian political process after hope was raised, urged all parties to proceed in the way agreed in Sochi. There is urgent need to convene the committee, he said, cautioning that delays will cast doubt on its legitimacy. All parties should be flexible in pursuit of peace in Syria, he said, expressing full support for the Special Envoy’s methodology in that effort.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), expressing support for all initiatives aiming to end the violence in Syria as soon as possible, welcomed the ceasefire in Idlib and reports of humanitarian access. Welcoming also the agreement to convene a constitutional committee, he underlined the importance of its meeting the concerns of all parties. The committee should work within the principle of sovereignty and the need to ensure the Syrian-led nature of the necessary peace process, while acknowledging the need for international support. Kazakhstan supports the Astana and Geneva processes, as well as the work of the Special Envoy, he said.
BADER ABDULLAH N.M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), recalling hopes that the Special Envoy’s visit to Damascus would lead to progress in the constitutional committee’s formation and new momentum in the peace process, said the briefing evinced disappointment. He encouraged the Special Envoy, in his remaining time in that position, to ensure the committee is convened, while agreeing with him that the list must be balanced and inclusive. Council resolutions must be respected, he emphasized, describing the Idlib agreement as an important opening for a diplomatic solution to the long conflict. It must be seized, he added.
DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia), welcoming the Special Envoy’s recent meeting in Damascus with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Syria, expressed support for his efforts to convene the constitutional committee as soon as possible. “We all agree that the agreement reached between [the Russian Federation] and Turkey in Idlib provides a window of opportunity that should be seized to revive a credible, inclusive and Syrian-owned political process,” he said. It should start with the establishment of a United Nations-facilitated constitutional committee, he added, emphasizing that the Council should continue to throw its full weight behind the Special Envoy, whose efforts over the coming days and month will be critical.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) encouraged the Syrian parties to choose the path of dialogue by committing themselves to the Sochi outcome agreement and proceeding with a political process aimed at resolving the crisis under the auspices of the United Nations. Calling upon all stakeholders to engage with a view to reaching a peaceful resolution, and to fully respect the provisions of resolution 2254 (2015), he urged Council members to recover the unity that has historically allowed them to maintain international peace and security.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), emphasizing that there is no military solution that can bring sustainable peace to Syria, called for an intra-Syrian framework political agreement, saying the opportunity presented by the Idlib ceasefire should be used as soon as possible to begin a political process under the auspices of the United Nations. Expressing support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to establish a constitutional committee – “now, as a priority” – he said further steps should follow to facilitate a negotiated political transition. The Syrian authorities must play a special role in that process and participate in good faith, he stressed, adding that “it is for the Syrians themselves to negotiate”. Only a real, tangible political process, ensuring the true representation of the Syrian people, can provide conditions suitable to the holding of free and fair elections supervised by the United Nations, he said.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) expressed regret that after eight years, the path to a political solution in Syria is still not clear. Welcoming the Damascus meeting in that light, he said it is time for progress in forming the constitutional committee, adding that it is also important to seize the opportunity in the current period of relative peace. He called upon the parties to spare no effort to convene a credible, balanced group in forming the list of participants, while taking the concern of all parties into account. Expressing hope that tomorrow’s summit on Syria will help in moving the process forward and in consolidating security and stability, he emphasized that a political solution cannot be achieved without the best efforts of those with influence in the region.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said it is unusual for special envoys to brief following each meeting, emphasizing that political processes require patience. In that light, the Russian Federation is sceptical about the motivations of those who called today’s meeting, he said, while underlining the importance of seizing current opportunities. There is finally some progress in Syria, with the Astana guarantors working hard to reduce violence, and there are no grounds for setting deadlines for convening the constitutional committee, he said, adding that the parties must be allowed to work out solutions. The very fact that the Special Envoy went to Damascus is important, but the meeting there must be seen as one among many other developments, including the summit that will take place tomorrow, he said. Emphasizing that the political process in Syria is a delicate matter that should not be upset by the strategies of the so-called “small group”, he pledged that the Russian Federation will continue to do everything it can to help the Special Envoy move ahead in pursuit of a political solution.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, expressing support for the Special Envoy and for the efforts of the Astana guarantors. Affirming that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, he said that he looks forward to the outcomes of upcoming diplomatic meetings, and that he saw the recent Damascus meeting in a positive light, as part of necessary consultations with the Syrian Government. He called for a resolution of the conflict consistent with resolution 2254 (2015) and respect for Syria’s sovereignty.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) rejected all allegations – made by those who called for today’s meeting – to the effect that his country’s Government is failing to cooperate with the Special Envoy. Calling attention to Syria’s long-standing role in the work of the United Nations, he said that more recently the Government has devoted thousands of hours of work with all parties - including the United Nations - to end the crisis. He went on to underline the primacy of the United Nations Charter, saying it is shameful for its principles to be swept aside by some Western countries, which themselves violated the Charter “before its ink was even dry”. Among other things, those States launched a major war in the Middle East, established military bases in the region and continue to train terrorist fighters, he said. Expressing regret that the Special Envoy’s briefing did not mention the many military raids carried out against Syrian towns and villages by the so-called coalition - directed by the United States – he recalled that, on 19 October, that coalition targeted two civilian villages in south-western Syria, killing and wounding dozens of civilians.
Warning States not to rely on the “arrogance of strength”, he pointed out that the Charter prohibits all countries from meddling in the internal affairs of others. Noting that Syria values Idlib as an important part of its territory - over which it will re-establish control in line with its sovereign rights – he went on to recall that the Government of Syria worked in good faith in the context of the Sochi conference, where the decision to establish a constitutional committee was first reached. Syria is now actively working to establish that committee with the facilitation – but not the guardianship - of the United Nations. “Establishing artificial deadlines will not help us to realize our aspirations,” he stressed.
Ms. PIERCE (United Kingdom), taking the floor again, asked for more information about her Syrian counterpart’s statement regarding the re-taking of Idlib Governorate, pointing out that such an action would violate the Russian-Turkish agreement. She asked how long the agreement is intended to hold.
Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) also took the floor again in response to that question, emphasizing that Idlib is a dear part of Syria’s sovereign territory. “We are not talking about Florida or Glasgow”, he emphasized, but about an integral part of his own country, where some 30,000 so-called “moderate” foreign terrorist fighters currently reside. Indeed, the issue is not about “re-taking” Idlib, but about restoring State sovereignty when diplomatic and political efforts have all failed.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) affirmed that the Idlib agreement is still holding, while emphasizing again that the territory involved must be recognized as part of the sovereign State of Syria.
Mr. DE MISTURA, making clear that he did not discuss the issues just brought up in his Damascus meeting with the Minister, said that such issues will be dealt with in the many meetings planned in the next few weeks. There will be a lot of opportunities to push for progress on the constitutional committee, he added, pledging to leave no stone unturned in that regard and to clarify issues further in November.