posted on Thu 13 Jul 2017 4:30 PM
Syria: Consultations on the Seventh Round of the Geneva Talks

Tomorrow (14 July), Council members expect a briefing in consultations from Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura via video-teleconference on the seventh round of the intra-Syrian talks (10-14 July) in Geneva. The Special Envoy will also most likely provide an assessment of the levels of violence in Syria, particularly regarding compliance with the ceasefire in the de-escalation areas announced in early May.

Council members will be interested in hearing de Mistura’s views on progress made in the four baskets on the agenda of the Geneva talks (governance; constitutional issues; elections; and counter-terrorism, security and confidence-building measures). Briefing the Council on 27 June, he expressed his readiness to “seek to facilitate direct talks between the government and the opposition” either at a formal or technical level, building on the current proximity talks. Council members might ask about de Mistura’s efforts to engage jointly with the different opposition delegations and his efforts to get them to eventually hold direct talks with the government. Of particular interest will be whether there has been progress on de Mistura’s initiative to establish a technical process of expert meetings to address constitutional and legal issues. Council members might inquire whether these technical meetings will continue after the completion of the current round of Geneva talks. While de Mistura met jointly with experts from opposition delegations on 15-16 June, the government refused to participate in these technical meetings between rounds of the intra-Syrian talks.

Council members might want to hear from de Mistura and those members present in the 4-5 July meetings in Astana about the key issues discussed, including the difficulties of delineating the three de-escalation areas in Syria (Idlib province and certain parts of neighbouring provinces, northern Homs and eastern Ghouta) and agreeing on a monitoring mechanism. Even though the three guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey) had anticipated finalising these matters by 4 June, an agreement on these issues has yet to be brokered. Council members might be particularly interested in the options being considered by the parties involving the presence of third-party observers, especially given the fact that these monitoring mechanisms may require the backing of the Council. They may also inquire about progress on the confidence-building measures agreed in Astana regarding detainees, abductees, missing persons, and humanitarian demining.

There is further expected to be discussion on the operationalisation of the ceasefire agreement brokered by the US and Russia, along with Jordan, in southwestern Syria. They may want to hear any additional information these countries may have regarding the establishment of an operations center in Amman to implement the agreement. They may also inquire about de Mistura’s views on the potential impact of the arrangements negotiated for that area on broader conflict dynamics, including with respect to regional actors, particularly Iran.

Council members may ask de Mistura to elaborate on his recent public statements on de-escalation areas, which have emphasised the need to ensure that they are a temporary measure, that they do not become permanent areas of influence, and that they do not pave the way for the partition of Syria. In the past, de Mistura has also warned against the parties taking advantage of existing ambiguities in the de-escalation areas to make territorial gains or divert resources to other strategic battlefronts.

In light of the ongoing offensive on Raqqa, Council members may inquire about de Mistura’s perspective regarding stabilisation in parts of Syria, particularly in areas recovered from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. They may be interested in ensuring that— whether liberated by the Syrian government, the Syrian Democratic Forces or other actors—the management of these territories does not undermine the agenda for a political process guided by resolution 2254.