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UN envoy outlines ‘possibilities for progress’ in Syria next year

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A child carries winter clothing kits, distributed by UNICEF, in Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Now is the time to explore whether a political process in Syria can meaningfully move forward in 2022, UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen told the Security Council on Monday. 

“No one should expect miracles or quick solutions – the path forward will be necessarily incremental. But I hope that this coming year we can work on concrete steps towards the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254,” he said. 

The resolution, adopted in December 2015, outlines a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, where a decade of war has killed more than 350,000 people.   

‘Strategic stalement’ 

Six years on, it remains “regrettably a long way” from being implemented, said Mr. Pedersen. “But I do believe there are possibilities for progress that need to be explored in 2022.” 

A “strategic stalemate” has continued on the ground for 21 months, he said, “making it increasingly clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the outcome of the conflict, and that a military solution remains an illusion.” 

Furthermore, all sides face grave risks and costs “by simply trying to muddle through with the unacceptable status quo”, he added, especially given factors that include ongoing suffering and displacement, economic collapse, the de facto division of the country, and the dangers of renewed escalation. 

“The status quo has many dangers, and it would be folly only to manage an unacceptable and deteriorating stalemate,” said Mr. Pedersen. “Equally, the realities facing all parties should promote an interest in compromise, and open opportunities for concrete steps forward on the political track.” 

Wide-ranging engagement

The UN envoy reported that he has been highlighting these dynamics in all his engagements with those who can help end the fighting. 

“With each passing month, I have sensed a wider realization than before that political and economic steps are needed – and that these can really only happen together – step-by-step, step-for-step,” he said. 

Mr. Pedersen has met recently with the Syrian Government in Damascus, and with Foreign Ministers from the region.  He also briefed American, European, Arab and Turkish envoys when they met in Brussels. 

Overcoming mistrust 

“My sense from all these engagements is that there is still great mistrust on all sides,” he said. “Nevertheless, there is enough interest from all sides to test what could be possible via a wider political process.” 

To further explore this, Mr. Pedersen has been consulting senior officials from key Syrian and international stakeholders.  Talks have been held in Geneva so far with Russia, the European Union, Turkey and Qatar.  Consultations with additional participants are also anticipated. 

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“Let me recall here that while the political solution in Syria must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, many issues are not solely in the hands of the Syrians. Moreover, we have seen that when key stakeholders work together with mutual steps on issues of common concern, at least some progress has been possible,” he said. 

Constitutional Committee update 

At the same time, Mr. Pederson remains “actively engaged” in getting the Syrian Constitutional Committee to reconvene, while also meeting with civil society representatives, including members of the Women’s Advisory Board. 

The Constitutional Committee comprises equal numbers of representatives from the Syrian Government, opposition and civil society, the so-called “Middle Third”. 

A drafting process began during its last meeting, held in October in Geneva, but ended without consensus on moving forward. 

Mr. Pedersen said it was important that delegations not only table texts but be ready to commit to revising them, in light of discussions held over recent weeks in Damascus and Istanbul. 

“To be clear: I am ready to convene a Seventh session of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva as soon as understandings are in place. And once they are, we will of course brief the Civil Society Middle Third in preparation for a Seventh Session.” 

Cross-line humanitarian aid 

Meanwhile, the UN continues to deliver aid to millions of Syrians, amid a complex operating environment. 

UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths reported that two cross-line convoys have been deployed in the northwest of the country. The latest was just days ago, and together they carried food and other supplies for around 80,000 people.  Another is planned for January. 

“Through our access negotiations, we were able to identify solutions acceptable for all parties, but agreement needs to be reached on who would be involved in conducting cross-line convoys, and who would be authorized to distribute the aid,” he said. 

Sustained operations needed 

A local team from the World Food Programme (WFP) also began food distributions last Thursday through a newly established mechanism, and the UN will continue to push for these to proceed.  

Mr. Griffiths said this initial progress must be translated into more predictable and sustained humanitarian operations.  

“We will continue to do all in our power to facilitate these cross-line convoys – convoy once a month, delivery every week. And I call upon all parties to facilitate, to help, and not to block the implementation of our plan.” 

With winter setting in, millions of Syrians are bracing for intense cold, including displaced people forced to live, for now, in tents. 

“And I regret to say that the humanitarian operation simply does not have sufficient funds to provide the basic shelter, heating, and warm clothes to all of those in need,” Mr. Griffiths told the Council. 

“As I say, we are failing in our responsibilities to the people of Syria.” 

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