In Multipolarity, Russia

New Cold War, Nov 17, 2015

Representatives of 17 countries met in Vienna on November 14 to discuss a ceasefire in the Syria civil war and a political process that could put an end to the fighting there.

17 countries met in Vienna on Nov 14, 2015 to discuss end to Syria civil war (AFP photo)

17 countries met in Vienna on Nov 14, 2015 to discuss end to Syria civil war (AFP photo)

The talks were a continuation of talks in the Austrian capital on October 30, also attended by representatives from 17 countries. Both sets of talks included representatives from the United States, Russia, Iran and envoys from the United Nations and the European Union.

According to the joint statement released by the UN following the second round on November 14 (text below), the participants agreed that Syria should have a transitional government in six months and hold elections in 18 months. Enclosed are two news reports on the meeting as well as the joint statement issuing from the meeting in Vienna.


Obama, Putin agree on need for political transition, ceasefire in Syria: U.S. official

By Matt Spetalnick and Lidia Kelly, Reuters, Nov 15, 2015

BELEK, Turkey–U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for a Syria-led political transition, including U.N.-mediated talks, when they spoke at the G20 summit on Sunday, a White House official said.

The Cold War superpower foes have been at odds over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow supports and Washington wants gone, as well as the conflict in Ukraine.

Presidents Obama and Putin discuss informally during break at G20 summit meeting in Turkey on Nov 15, 2015 (Twitter)

Presidents Obama and Putin discuss informally during break at G20 summit meeting in Turkey on Nov 15, 2015 (Twitter)

In a 35 minute discussion on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) meeting in Turkey, Obama and Putin discussed efforts to find a solution to the conflict, which had been made more pressing by the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, the U.S. official said.

“President Obama and President Putin agreed on the need for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition, which would be proceeded by UN-mediated negotiations between the Syrian opposition and regime as well a ceasefire,” the official said.

Obama welcomed efforts by all countries in confronting Islamic State, noting the importance of Russia’s military efforts in Syria focusing on the group, the official said.

Following the talks, Russian media quoted a top Kremlin adviser as saying the two countries have similar approach toward fighting terrorism but differ on tactics. “Strategic objectives relating to the fight against the Islamic State are, in principle, very similar (between Russia and the U.S.), but there are differences on the tactics side,” Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying.

Russia stands accused of targeting groups other than Islamic State in air strikes in Syria, including fighters backed by the United States and its allies.

The White House official said Obama also reiterated his support for the implementation of the Minsk agreement, a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine agreed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

2. Syria deal reached in Vienna on Nov 14

By Donna Abu-Nasr and Nafeesa Syeed, Bloomberg News, Nov 15, 2015

The most serious international effort yet at ending Syria’s four-year civil war leaves in place some significant obstacles to peace.

The 17-nation deal announced in Vienna on Saturday exceeded some analysts’ expectations for the meeting of key players in Syria’s conflict, after multiple attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State added pressure to reach a consensus. The result was a timeline to let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017, starting with a United Nations-sponsored meeting between government and opposition representatives by Jan. 1.

Yet the deal left key issues hanging, in particular the fate of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and a decision on which of the hundreds of opposition groups will be included in the political process. It doesn’t specify whether the new government will have full executive power — a key demand for those opposed to a role for Assad in the transition — and the agreement hinges on whether the president will commit to a process that could end his regime.

“I don’t expect it to work out,” Samir Nashar, a member of the National Coalition, Syria’s main political opposition, said from Istanbul. “It ignores very important issues. It looks more like a reconciliation between the opposition and the regime.” Saudi Cooperation

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expects the political process to proceed. Saudi Arabia will be in contact with the Syrian opposition, Merkel told reporters at the G-20 summit in Turkey, where she met Saudi’s King Salman on Sunday.

The hope is that the fight against Islamic State “will be possibly coherent and unified,” she said. “But we are not there yet.”

The emergence of Islamic State and the growing involvement of regional powers have added to the complexity of the conflict in Syria. The sectarian struggle between mostly Shiite Iran and predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia helps fuel the war, while Assad is also backed by Russia. The war has left more than 250,000 people dead and displaced half of the country’s population. French warplanes bombed the group’s stronghold Sunday in the Syrian town of Raqqa.

While the violence in Paris contributed to Saturday’s agreement, it remains to be seen whether it will translate into real progress on the ground, according to Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. The best chance for success will be if Western powers and Russia “are afraid enough of another Paris attack” to pressure their proteges and allies to end the violence, he said.

“Will it be enough to make achievable gains, or will it be an emotional shock that will fade away and bring back the old conflicting positions?” Nader said. Regional Rivals

The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia may preclude the necessary cooperation. Iran backs Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority whose faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and has sent militias from Iraq and Lebanon to support him. Saudi Arabia has financed and armed rebels fighting to bring down the president.

“Each one ultimately can be a spoiler,” said Graham Griffiths, an analyst at Control Risks in Dubai. “If they don’t feel their interests are being furthered or represented by further talks or further plans, and if they’re not talking or communicating with each other, that’s a pretty significant barrier to any progress.”

The agreement’s “Achilles’ heel” is its reliance on Assad’s regime to make real concessions and accept a transfer of power, Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said by e-mail. On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad’s allies conveyed that he’s prepared to be serious and engage in talks.

“The critical factor will therefore be whether or not Russia and Iran are really ready to exercise leverage over the Assad regime, and how much leverage they actually have,” he said.

3. Statement of the International Syria Support Group, Vienna, November 14, 2015  (weblink here)

Meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015 as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States discussed how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict.

The participants began with a moment of silence for the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris and the recent attacks in Beirut, Iraq, Ankara, and Egypt. The members unanimously condemned in the strongest terms these brutal attacks against innocent civilians and stood with the people of France.

Subsequently, the participants engaged in a constructive dialogue to build upon the progress made in the October 30 gathering. The members of the ISSG expressed a unanimous sense of urgency to end the suffering of the Syrian people, the physical destruction of Syria, the destabilization of the region, and the resulting increase in terrorists drawn to the fighting in Syria.

The ISSG acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, and that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously. They stated their commitment to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communique in its entirety. The group reached a common understanding on several key issues.

The group agreed to support and work to implement 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 the transition under UN auspices on the basis of the Geneva Communique. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council pledged to support a UNSC resolution to empower a UN-endorsed ceasefire monitoring mission in those parts of the country where monitors would not come under threat of attacks from terrorists, and to support a political transition process in accordance with the Geneva Communique.

All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence. The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist

The participants welcomed UN Secretary General Ban’s statement that he has ordered the UN to accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire. The group agreed that the UN should lead the effort, in consultation with interested parties, to determine the requirements and modalities of a ceasefire.

The ISSG expressed willingness to take immediate steps to encourage confidence-building measures that would contribute to the viability of the political process and to pave the way for the nationwide ceasefire. In this context, and pursuant to clause 5 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG discussed the need to take steps to ensure expeditious humanitarian access throughout the territory of Syria pursuant to UNSCR 2165 and called for the granting of the UN’s pending requests for humanitarian deliveries. The ISSG expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries. The resolution of the refugee issue is important to the final settlement of the Syrian conflict. The ISSG also reaffirmed the devastating effects of the use of indiscriminate weapons on the civilian population and humanitarian access, as stated in UNSCR 2139. The ISSG agreed to press the parties to end immediately any use of such indiscriminate weapons.

The ISSG reaffirmed the importance of abiding by all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 2199 on stopping the illegal trade in oil, antiquities and hostages, from which terrorists benefit.

Pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, incorporated by reference in the Vienna statement of October 30, and in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118, the ISSG agreed on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices, as soon as possible, with a target date of January 1. The group welcomed efforts, working with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and others, to bring together the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition, chosen by Syrians, who will decide their negotiating representatives and define their negotiating positions, so as to enable the political process to begin. All the parties to the political process should adhere to the guiding principles identified at the October 30 meeting, including a commitment to Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character; to ensuring that State institutions remain intact; and to protecting the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination. ISSG members agreed that these principles are fundamental.

The ISSG members reaffirmed their support for the transition process contained in the 2012 Geneva Communique. In this respect they affirmed their support for a ceasefire as described above and for a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution. Free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months. These elections must be administered under UN supervision to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.

Regarding the fight against terrorism, and pursuant to clause 6 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG reiterated that Da’esh, Nusra, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants and endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be defeated. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan agreed to help develop among intelligence and military community representatives a common understanding of groups and individuals for possible determination as terrorists, with a target of completion by the beginning of the political process under UN auspices.

The participants expect to meet in approximately one month in order to review progress towards implementation of a ceasefire and the beginning of the political process.

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