The United Nations envoy mediating a resolution to the crisis in Syria warned that the latest round of talks was overshadowed by a substantial deterioration of the cessation of hostilities, and called on the leaders of the Russian Federation and United States to help salvage the “barely alive” pact.
“What we need to do and to hear is that the cessation of hostilities is salvaged and […] is saved from a total collapse,” Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters following a briefing to the Security Council yesterday.
“It’s still there. It’s still there because in many areas, it’s still there. But it’s in great danger. It’s still alive, but barely. And the perception is that it could collapse at any time.”
The Special Envoy said that the previous round of intra-Syrian talks had received a boost and support linked to the beginning of the cessation of hostilities and a “clear commitment” to move ahead with an accelerated pattern of humanitarian access to besieged areas.
“This round of talks has instead been overshadowed, let’s be frank, by a substantial and indeed worrisome deterioration of the cessation of hostilities,” he said. “We cannot ignore that and we have not ignored it.”
The most recent round of talks had seen air strikes on a hospital and the killing of a paediatric doctor, among other attacks, the Special Envoy said.
“Let’s put it in a few words: In the last 48 hours, we have had an average of one Syrian killed every 25 minutes. One Syrian wounded every 13 minutes,” he said.
Other senior UN officials expressed deep concern about the situation on the ground, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning yesterday’s aerial strikes against the hospital in Aleppo. According to a statement issued by his spokesperson, civil society groups report at least 20 people were killed as a result of the attack, including three children and the area's last paediatrician.In the statement, the UN chief echoed Mr. de Mistrua by calling on the warring sides in Syria to immediately renew their commitment to the cessation of hostilities. Mr. Ban also encouraged the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), in particular its two co-chairs, Russia and the United States – and including the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries and which has been seeking a path forward for several months – to exert pressure on all concerned to stop the fighting and to ensure credible investigations of incidents such as the attack on Al Quds hospital.
Meanwhile, in his briefing to the Security Council, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said that for many in Syria who are merely surviving, “life is miserable.” He lamented: “Deliberately deprived of food and medicine, many face the most appalling conditions of desolation, hunger and starvation. We must all be ashamed that this is happening on our watch.”
Commonalities on political transition
Mr. de Mistura said that despite such incidents, the talks had continued from 13 April until 27 April. He had prepared a mediator’s summary indicating that there has been “some progress,” and including his own understanding of what have been differing visions of the political transition from different points of view.
“After all, we are talking about a political discussion regarding a conflict which has been going on for more than five years, and as you can see is still ongoing – there are some commonalities on the political transition,” Mr. de Mistura said.
One of the commonalities is that there is “no doubt” that there is an urgent need for a credible political transition, he said.
“You remember when the word transition, at least in certain area, was taboo? Not anymore. Everyone acknowledges that that is the agenda,” the envoy stressed.
The envoy also said that there is a clear understanding that a credible political transition should be overseen by a new credible and inclusive transitional governance that will be replacing the present governance arrangements. The other common point is that the transitional governance should include members of the present Government, opposition, independents and others, he said.
Mr. de Mistura said that another commonality is that Syria does require a new constitution, and that the key responsibility for this transitional governance will be to oversee the drafting of the new constitution. In addition, any new governance should be agreed upon in UN-facilitated intra-Syrian talks “on the basis of mutual consent,” he said.
“Having said that, [there is] no denial that there are still major differences officially on the major issues,” the envoy stressed.
Calls for revitalization for next round of talks
The Special Envoy also recalled the initiative by Russia and the United States in February that had led to the cessation of hostilities.
“The Russian Federation and the US, as you remember, had a very strong initiative, which produced basically a miracle, because on 27 February, suddenly within hours, we had a dramatic collapse not of the cessation of hostilities but of the hostilities. And that produced a great feeling among everyone that in fact the political discussions and everything else had and should have a chance,” he said.
“We need that to be urgently revitalized,” he continued. “And […] the Russian Federation and the US, as they did when they launched suddenly everything related to the cessation of hostilities, need to come back again and relaunch it.”
In that vein, he appealed for an “urgent initiative” at the highest levels for the next round of talks.
The next round of talks would be meaningful “only if and when the cessation of hostilities is brought back to the level we saw in February and in March,” Mr. de Mistura said.
“Hence, my appeal for a US-Russian urgent initiative at the highest levels, because the legacy of both President Obama and President Putin is linked to the success of what has been a unique initiative which started very well and needs to end very well.”
In addition, a new International Syria Support Group meeting at the ministerial level would also be necessary, the special envoy said, in order to “relaunch what has been for a moment put in danger.”
“That is what we want to obtain before we actually announce the new round of talks, because that would certainly help the round of talks to become credible and effective. And we are ready for doing so because a lot has been done so far,” he concluded.