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UN Role in Post-Conflict Syria Depends on Geneva

With no date set for the Geneva Conference, the UN has so far been unable to come up with a peacekeeping plan for Syria.
A newly arrived Syrian refugee receives aid and rations, at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2013. U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres, and the Norwegian foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, along with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) special envoy, actress Angelina Jolie, held a news conference at the camp to commemorate the World Refugee Day, and to urge the world to support refugees in Syria and around t

While attention has been focused on if or when the Geneva conference on Syria will be convened, one element of the whole equation remains less documented: the role of the UN in a post-conflict Syria. The scope of the UN mission will affect the very viability of any Geneva plan for the transitional period in Syria. This is why at the UN headquarters in New York, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in coordination with the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) have worked on various scenarios that each determine the level of UN commitment required.

The ideal scenario is a Geneva conference that concludes with a political agreement between both sides, followed by the deployment of UN peacekeepers to help local forces to bring safety back to the population. UN officials talk about “a path to political transition” that could include remnants of the old regime with elements of the opposition.

But all the stakeholders have their own vision of a “transition.” The United States has so far declared that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a necessary outcome of the transition, and has opposed the participation of Iran. Russia insists no such preconditions can be imposed. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem recently declared, “We head to Geneva not to hand over power to another side.”[1] As a result, planners in the UN Secretariat have no illusions about the likelihood of such scenario.

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