The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution outlining a peace process for Syria. The agreement was a rare show of international unity over a conflict in which more than 300,000 people have lost their lives.
The vote came shortly after representatives of the five UN Security Council permanent members agreed on a draft text calling for peace talks between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups to start January.
But the resolution adopted Friday made no mention of the most contentious issue - the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Addressing the Security Council shortly after the vote, US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the persistent “sharp differences” on Assad’s fate within the council. But a political process was critical to attempting to bring about an end to the civil war, he added. “Nothing would do more to bolster the fight against the terrorists than a political process,” said Kerry, describing the resolution a "milestone".
The resolution however acknowledged that the peace process will not end the Syrian conflict, which has dragged on for more than five years, because it bars "terrorist groups" operating in the country, including the Islamic State (IS) group and al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front, from participating in a ceasefire.
Ceasefire does not apply to IS group
The four-page draft backs a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to come into effect "as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices".
The ceasefire would not apply to "offensive or defensive actions" against groups considered terrorist organisations, implying airstrikes by Russia, France and the US-led coalition in Syria would not be affected.
It also asks UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back within one month on options for a ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting mechanism.
Ban told the council that Syria was "in ruins," singling out besieged areas where "thousands of people have been forced to live on grass and weeds", which he called "outrageous".
The draft asked the UN to convene representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition for formal negotiations with a target start date of January. It also says ceasefire efforts should move forward in parallel with the talks.
On the critical issue of a transition framework, the draft text said the process should be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, stressing that the "Syrian people will decide the future of Syria".
Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, criticised the "glaring contradictions" between letting the Syrian people decide their fate and what he called interference in his country's sovereignty over discussion about replacing Assad.
Intense discussions at New York hotel
The resolution followed intense discussions between around 20 foreign ministers and representatives of the 17-member International Syria Support Group (ISSG) at New York’s Palace Hotel earlier on Friday.
Diplomats said the main sticking points were the longstanding divisions between the West and Russia over Assad’s role in Syria’s future. But the emergence of a shared commitment to defeating the IS group has governments believing they can sidestep their disagreements on the Syrian leader.
Other difficult issues included establishing which Syrian groups will represent the opposition in peace talks next year.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said he presented lists submitted from each country of groups they consider terrorist organisations. He said some countries "sent 10, 15, 20 names" and others more.
"Now I think there will be follow-up steps in terms of countries meeting again to set criteria which will help filter the list," said Judeh, whose country is tasked with putting the final list together.
Kerry’s careful balancing act
In the build-up to Friday’s talks, Kerry had been engaged in a careful balancing act, seeking to keep both Assad’s main international backers and opponents on side.
He travelled to Moscow earlier this week to assure the Kremlin that Washington is not seeking "regime change" in Syria, while on Thursday, he met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at a New York hotel to reassure Assad's most implacable foe that the United States is not going soft on the Syrian strongman.
Western officials say a recent meeting in Saudi Arabia of opposition figures made significant headway in coming up with an opposition bloc, though Russia and Iran questioned the legitimacy of the Saudi-hosted discussions.
“Do not expect a breakthrough from this round of talks. Many differences remain, including differences on terrorist groups,” an Iranian diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-12-18