UNITED IN DIVIDING SYRIA

 

NOVEMBER 2018

UNITED IN DIVIDING SYRIA

A fourth U.N. Envoy in four years signals a tragic failure of the international community and disappointing erosion in U.N. role and stature. The initial four points of the first envoy, our dearly departed Kofi Annan, remain on a distant table. Holding a joint meeting for all parties, drawing an agreed constitution, forming an interim government, and holding new elections, are still lingering in the first stage.

Calling for meetings has mainly led to calls for other meetings, which in turn explore another spot for another meeting. From Geneva, Palais De Nations, to a resort in Sochi, Russia, to a more recent gathering in Istanbul, mainly lead to a de facto arrangement to divide Syria into spheres of influence.

A few months ago, prospects of a peaceful outcome as proposed by the U.N. Security Council seemed to be imminent, however more recently it was indicated that U.S. troops would be staying there for "the time being" subsidized by a new Saudi contribution. Some Islamist fighters who were supposed to arrange for an outcome, started targeting civilians again. Turkey, despite a summit, indicated its determination to "fight terrorism," meaning Kurdish troops in an area inside Syria. Russia has its own military presence and bases and political role everywhere. Iran obviously has a contentious role, but still basic. The central government is still around getting wider support.

An open meeting last month at the United Nations Headquarters between Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Waleed Al Muallem and Bahrain Foreign Minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, would not have happened without tacit approval of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which is reportedly about to re-open its embassy in Damascus. Obviously, Kuwait and Oman are in an open diplomatic relationship with Damascus.

While U.N. Envoy Stefan De Mistura failed in Syria, as he failed earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan, a positive U.N. role is demonstrated by the humanitarian emergency department, which was at least able to deliver food assistance. Tragically, the main victims are the dispersed, distracted, yet always creative, Syrian people.

A search for a new envoy included four candidates:

  • JŠn Kubis of Slovakia, who had just concluded his mission as U.N. envoy to Iraq.
  • Nickolay Mladenov, Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, who was most likely blocked by a Permanent Representative of the Security Council.
  • An effective candidate was Algerian former Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, who has made a remarkable impact in his role as African Union's Commissioner for Peace and Security. His country has a special stature in the Arab world since its struggle for independence and Ambassador Lamamra has distinguished himself in the United Nations Headquarters and elsewhere. His strong performance may have been used against him.
  • The appointed candidate, Geir O. Pedersen, is former U.N. Under Secretary-General, and Norway's current ambassador to China. He had served at U.N. ranks in New York, in New York's political affairs department, was a successful special envoy to Lebanon, and permanent representative of his country to New York.

As a young diplomat, Ambassador Pederson played a preparatory role in the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo Peace Accord. One issue was that another Norwegian diplomat, Jan Egeland, oversaw U.N. Humanitarian Relief in Syria. Mr. Pedersen's chances were enhanced when Mr. Egeland announced that he was leaving the Syrian assignment, as it would not be possible to have Norwegians working in the same area.

It will certainly help to have a U.N. envoy for Syria who for a change is closely familiar with the region while having proven experience in handling U.N. field operations and connections with diplomatic circles. Mr. Pederson has an almost impossible task. Let us hope he accomplishes some success. Not only for the sake of the U.N., but in the interest of the Syrian people.