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Self-Delusion at the U.N. Over Syria

With no mention of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, the “milestone” resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on Friday is the latest example of a peace process that is entirely missing the point, writes political analyst Sharif Nashashibi.

Written by Sharif Nashashibi Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
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That U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should describe last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 on Syria as a “milestone” is another indicator of how the “peace process” is becoming ever-more detached from reality.

Presumably the “milestone” is that there was unanimous agreement among council members, but this unanimity is illusory. It was only achieved because, as with all diplomatic efforts regarding Syria thus far, the resolution makes no mention of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad – as if the conflict can be resolved by simply sweeping this central issue under the carpet.

Prior to the Council vote, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “It is unacceptable that the whole Syrian crisis and the solution to the crisis have to be dependent on the fate of one man.” As if Assad’s role is a trivial matter.

How can a solution be reached that does not address the fate of the man whose dictatorship led to mass protests, whose brutal response led to the conflict, whose regime is responsible for the vast majority of death and destruction in Syria, and which has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people so he can remain in power? To think this can be bypassed is wishful thinking worthy only of contempt.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Friday demanded that talks on Syria yield assurances that Assad step down. “How could somebody bring together a whole people when he has massacred so many?” Fabius asked, adding that as long as Assad remains in power, reconciliation between Syrians and the regime will remain “unattainable.” That is correct, but why then did Fabius’s demand come after France voted in favour of a resolution that does not provide such assurances?

The resolution calls for the political transition to be Syrian led, but council members that back either side in the conflict have chosen to ignore the positions of the opposition and the regime, making its success a pipe dream. Following the two recent Vienna conferences, which were notable for the absence of any Syrians, the resolution solidifies a process that, from far being Syrian led, ignores them altogether.

The resolution calls for a political transition that the regime has explicitly rejected. “We are not at all talking about what is called a transitional period,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said just days after the first round of talks in Vienna. “There is no alternative to the leadership of … Assad.” What, then, is the point of maintaining this illusion that the regime is willing to partake in a transition that it has never committed to and refuses to discuss?

The resolution calls for talks on a transition between the opposition and regime next month, but the positions of both sides cast doubt on whether the talks will take place at all, let alone discuss something the regime has consistently spurned.

A week prior to the Security Council’s vote, Assad reiterated that “we completely refuse” to negotiate with armed groups. Regarding the proposed talks in January, he said: “They want the Syrian government to negotiate with terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country.”

Riad Hijab, elected the day before the council vote as coordinator for peace talks by an opposition committee set up in Riyadh the week before, reiterated opposition demands that Assad cannot be part of a transition. “There will be no concession” on this, said Hijab, Syria’s former prime minister who defected in 2012.

Despite all this, world powers would have us believe that Assad’s fate does not and should not matter. This renders impossible the establishment of “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months – if at all – under the current framework.

The resolution seeks to exclude from the “peace process,” and from any ceasefire agreement, groups that are on a terror list being drawn up, including the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front.

However, the list in its current form reportedly contains 160 groups, including some of the most powerful forces on the ground, and some whose inclusion is hotly contested by various foreign and domestic parties (the terrorist activities of the regime, its militias and foreign supporters are not dealt with).

To further complicate matters, the list includes groups that sit on the committee of opposition groups agreed in Riyadh earlier this month to oversee negotiations with the regime. As such, there may end up being no agreement on the list itself, which is fundamental to the progress of the roadmap endorsed by the resolution.

Even if there was agreement, how can a ceasefire stick when some of the most powerful forces on the ground are excluded? If a ceasefire does not hold, how can there be “free and fair elections” under U.N. supervision within 18 months, as envisioned by the resolution?

Assad’s previous statements that he is only willing to hold elections once “terrorism” is eliminated in Syria – by his definition, any armed opposition – means it is not in his interest to see a ceasefire succeed, and may actively sabotage it by constantly shifting and widening the goalposts of what he describes as terrorism. After all, his regime has violated previous U.N.-brokered ceasefires.

It is no mere oversight that this resolution is far removed from reality. It is the product of the continued refusal to take into account the positions of the regime and opposition, to heed the wishes and respect the rights of the Syrian people, or to follow developments on the ground.

It is about being seen to be doing something, regardless of its efficacy, rather than pursuing what is necessary for a just and lasting end to this conflict. Unanimity at the Security Council means nothing when it is based on self-delusion.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.

Top image: A gathering in the U.N. Security Council of foreign ministers lead by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vote on a draft resolution concerning Syria, Friday, December. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

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