Syrian official slams UN envoy's report

According to information a Syrian official shared with Al-Monitor, it doesn’t seem the report on Syria that UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura submitted to the Security Council recently will have long-lasting effects on the ground.

al-monitor The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, arrives for a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, May 5, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.

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syrian conflict, sergey lavrov, saudi arabia foreign policy, saudi arabia, russian diplomacy in syrian crisis, lebanon, iranian mediation of syrian crisis, 2016 elections

Aug 25, 2015

A high-ranking Syrian official told Al-Monitor that Damascus authorities found little to praise in a report by Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, aimed at leading to peace talks to end the country's civil war.

The official, who asked that his name be withheld, said the report of about 50 pages includes several points that any country keen on its sovereignty and eager to preserve and protect its nation might express reservations about. Some of the proposals in de Mistura’s report may clearly derogate Syrian sovereignty if misinterpreted or misapplied. This leads to the conclusion that the UN envoy's report is inapplicable.

De Mistura’s report mainly stipulates the formation of four working groups that would include representatives of the government and Syrian opposition groups. The groups’ focus would be on four fields: safety and protection, including ending the blockade and ensuring the arrival of medical aid; political and constitutional issues, such as establishing an interim government board and holding elections; military and security issues, including the fight against terrorism and a cease-fire; and public institutions and development, with a focus on reconstruction of the country. The groups would examine political reforms and form a fully powerful transitional authority.

The UN Security Council on Aug. 17 endorsed de Mistura's plan to form the work groups.

The same high-ranking Syrian source said in an interview with Al-Monitor that his country's authorities will continue to positively deal and seriously cooperate with the UN envoy in full coordination with Syria’s allies, especially after the constant and careful consultation with both Moscow and Tehran. Both the Russian and Iranian authorities are constantly giving Damascus authorities advice to show goodwill toward any international or UN proposal.

There is a tendency in the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, to task Moscow and Tehran with developing possible solutions to the crisis in Syria, the official said. Damascus is completely reassured in this regard, as per the Syrian official, because the alliance between Syria's authorities, on the one hand, and the Russian and Iranian authorities on the other, is close and solid, as clearly confirmed by the developments of the past few years.

Riyadh has seemingly backed down from its position in the talks with Moscow over the war in Syria, the anonymous Syrian official stressed. After Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman expressed significant optimism over Moscow's proposals on Syria and the fight against terrorism during his visit June 19 to the Russian capital, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir expressed positions that seemed like a retreat from that positive point of view following his meeting with his Russian counterpart Aug. 11.

Russian officials, according to the anonymous source, had informed Syria that the negotiations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart in that meeting had ended with positive results. However, when Lavrov called on his guest to declare the conclusions in their joint press conference, Jubeir asked for a few minutes to call the powers back home to accurately determine what would be announced at the conference. After he made the call and the two men started answering reporters’ questions, Lavrov was surprised that Jubeir backed down from what they had agreed on in their meeting.

According to the Syrian official, Riyadh’s retreat will not be final, as Saudi Arabia probably aims to lift its demands and improve negotiation conditions and terms of discussions before sitting down to the serious solution table. The official said both Moscow and Damascus believe the retreat will be temporary, as Saudi Arabia is awaiting US congressional approval on the nuclear deal signed with Iran in order to seriously deal with Russia. Russia, the official added, has clearly been given a mandate by the West to prepare for Geneva III through the series of meetings held by Moscow with the various parties to the Syrian crisis, be they Syrian dissidents or regional parties.

In this context, the same official revealed that the Aug. 12 visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Damascus was aimed at discussing the so-called Iranian initiative with Syrian authorities to resolve the crisis in Syria. The source said Zarif put forth several ideas that could establish a framework for discussions; some of the ideas were good, while others required further discussions.

Any proposals for a solution, the source pointed out, must preserve the unity of Syria and the integrity of its entire territory.

Asked about reports that the Iranian ideas include discussions about “reassuring the Syrian groups and ethnicities,” the same official said the power of the Syrian law itself inspires assurance. Under the law, all local authorities in the Syrian provinces are elected. Therefore, this law, when applied, can secure full administrative decentralization that can constitute an adequate framework for reassuring regions and groups in Syria.

Legislative elections will be held in 2016 to choose members of the Syrian People's Assembly (parliament), along with local administration elections in various Syrian provinces. These elections can be a natural route toward implementing the reforms approved by Syrian authorities as well as foreign initiatives relating to the war in Syria.

On whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain in power, the Syrian official said that issue is off the table and the Russian foreign minister’s statement Aug. 17 was clear and decisive, pointing out that “Assad’s departure is an unacceptable precondition and that only Syrians decide Syria’s fate.” It is on this very point that all discussions start, because for Moscow, Iran and Damascus, this is not debatable.

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