posted on Wed 1 Feb 2012 12:38 PM
Syria Resolution Negotiations

This afternoon (1 February) Council members will continue negotiations, at permanent representative level, on a Syria draft resolution introduced by Morocco last Friday. (Russia also circulated a revision of its December draft resolution on 30 January.) The Moroccan draft resolution condemns the human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities and all violence committed in the country. It also supports the Arab League decision of 22 January. Although there a number of areas that have not been agreed yet, it appears that some Council members are hoping to put it to a vote in the coming days.

The key issue dividing the Council remains the political transition process as defined by the Arab League. Some members are concerned that this could be interpreted as a call for regime change in Syria. (The Arab League plan calls for power to be delegated to the Syrian vice president, who would oversee the political transition process, including the formation of a national unity government which would work towards elections within a specified timeframe.)

Other issues that have not been resolved include calling on member states to halt the flow of arms into Syria and encouraging them to adopt similar measures to those of the Arab League, including bilateral sanctions. Members also have not been able to agree on a follow-up mechanism for reporting back to the Council. Another area that still needs agreement is consensus language to reflect the commonly shared principle of no military intervention. Russia has said that the text needs to more explicitly rule out military intervention. There is also a lack of agreement on including language on the threat of further measures if Syria does not comply with the resolution.

Yesterday, (31 January) the Council was briefed by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, and the Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the Arab League ministerial committee on Syria. Both al-Arabi and al-Thani made an explicit call for the Council to adopt a resolution supporting the Arab League plan for peaceful settlement of the crisis. They also both made it clear that they were not seeking military intervention. (Council members Germany, Guatemala, France, Morocco, Portugal, the UK and the US were all represented at ministerial level at yesterday’s meeting.)

It appears that some Council members would like to make it clear that this draft resolution would come under Chapter VI (which covers pacific settlement of disputes) and not Chapter VII (which could evoke the use of force among other enforcement measures). Al-Arabi in his statement evoked Article 52 of the UN Charter (which comes under Chapter VIII on regional organisations): “The Security Council shall encourage the development of pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies either on the initiative of the states concerned or by reference from the Security Council.”

Statements from Council members at yesterday’s debate indicate that all Council members are willing to continue negotiations and appear to want some sort of Council outcome. While all members expressed support for the Arab League plan, five Council members (China, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Russia) at some point have expressed reservations about endorsing an action plan which in their view may be a first step towards regime change.

Russia has been clear that while it condemns the violence in Syria it will not support any imposed solution which has a prejudged outcome – such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down – in domestic political processes. China has firmly opposed the use of force to resolve the Syrian situation and is as firmly opposed to “forcibly pushing” for regime change. It has also indicated that it would be cautious on the issue of sanctions which it sees as further complicating the Syrian situation. India has said that the solution to the Syrian crisis cannot come from the outside and that it must be through a “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned” political solution. It has also emphasised the importance of the Council speaking with a unanimous voice. South Africa has welcomed the regional engagement by the Arab League and indicated that it would like to see the commitments and principles conveyed by the Arab League at yesterday’s briefing fully expressed in the draft resolution. Pakistan also indicated its desire for the draft resolution to more explicitly reflect no regime change or military intervention.

There seems to be at least ten Council members that are supportive of the current Morocco draft. In order to get consensus and avoid a veto, the resolution may have to be watered down by excluding support for the Arab League plan for political transition. These members and the Arab League will then have to decide if, for the sake of unanimity, they are willing to simply send a political signal to Damascus. The alternative would be a resolution with greater impact but one that would risk another possible veto. (On 4 October 2011, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution—sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK—that condemned the Syrian crackdown on protestors. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained.)

It seems currently the co-sponsors for the resolution include seven Council members (Colombia, France, Germany, Morocco, Portugal, UK, US) and the following key regional countries: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE. It seems that these co-sponsors consider that the only credible path for a peaceful, political solution to the crisis is through endorsing the Arab League plan and that by not doing so the Council is undermining what the Arab League has been able to achieve so far.