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UN Envoy Says Syria Cease-Fire Possible

  • Margaret Besheer

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference, Nov. 19, 2015, at U.N. headquarters.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference, Nov. 19, 2015, at U.N. headquarters.

The U.N. diplomat tasked with trying to bring Syria’s warring parties together said Thursday that a cease-fire covering large parts of the country is not unrealistic.

Staffan de Mistura told reporters that previous efforts at localized truces had failed because they lacked the backing of regional and international players who have influence over the parties.

“There are indications,” he said, that those countries “have an interest in seeing a cease-fire take place.”

The veteran diplomat pointed to successes in the town of Zabadani on Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the northwestern villages of Kefraya and Foua in achieving truces that have held since late September.

“When we talk about everyone else getting involved in it, like we had to a certain degree in Kefraya, Foua and Zabadani, the chances are higher [of success]," said de Mistura.

But he said there must be a political process to get truces to hold.

He also underscored that the international community would not seek to extend a cease-fire into areas held by Islamic State terrorists.

Getting to Peace Talks

De Mistura is in New York this week to update the secretary-general, the Security Council and members of the international community on two rounds of talks the United States and Russia organized in Vienna on the conflict. The talks included 19 countries with stakes in the conflict or influence on the warring parties.

The recent flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, the rise of the so-called Islamic State, and Russian airstrikes launched against certain groups in Syria have ignited a new international urgency in seeking a political settlement to the nearly five-year-old war, which has killed an estimated 250,000 people and sent four million Syrians fleeing the country.

The second round of Vienna talks this past Saturday yielded an agreement among the participants to bring the government and opposition together in direct talks “as soon as possible” with a target date of January 1, 2016.

One of the goals of the meeting was to decide who would represent the two sides at the negotiating table. De Mistura said Thursday that the Syrian government list has been decided and it includes “more than 40 people.”

“It is extremely important now to have a cohesive, comprehensive, well-inclusive Syrian opposition one,” he said. “I think we can get there.”

Countering Terrorism

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris on Friday, France has asked the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution urging member states to “take all necessary measures” within international law to combat Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

“It is not an option; it is a necessity," France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.

The draft was circulated to all 15 members of the council on Thursday afternoon and diplomats said a vote could come as early as Friday.

Russia has re-introduced a broader draft resolution it proposed in late September on forming an international coalition to fight terrorism in Syria. The draft had not mustered enough support in the council to come to a vote previously and some diplomats said the text has not been changed sufficiently to erase their concerns.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the Russian resolution “seeks to legitimize the authority of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad.” Rycroft said he does not see it “having much prospect” of adoption in its current form.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin indicated Moscow would not block adoption of the French proposal, saying “I don’t see anything particularly offensive [in it],” but urged council members to continue working on the text to “improve a thing or two.”

He said the council could adopt both resolutions – the French text now and the Russian one later - noting after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the council quickly adopted a short resolution and a couple of weeks later adopted a more comprehensive one.

“So it may well be we are going to go down that route here,” Churkin said.

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