The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has continued what he described as his “diligent efforts” to reach a solution for the thorny, 6-year-old Syrian issue, in an effort not to join the list of failures upon which have been written the names of the previous envoys Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan.
It appears, through the statements issued by de Mistura, that he has not been able so far to play a real role in what can be described as “mediation” between the opposition and the regime, and in preparing a path for the two sides to reach a solution. This has been reflected in his repeated frustration over the proposals and initiatives which he has put forward and which have not been without clandestine attempts to bolster the position of the Assad regime in some instances or to satisfy the allies of the regime in others, especially Russia.
Since de Mistura undertook the position in 2014, the U.N. envoy has jumped between various positions and statements which have sparked the ire of the Syrian opposition, especially in February 2015 when he said that “Assad is part of the solution in Syria.” The envoy was severely criticized for his remarks and pushed to justify his statement days later in a manner that analysts described as unprofessional. De Mistura said at the time that he had communicated with the former president of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja and said that this statement was intended to drag Assad toward the circle of the solution and to involve him in the beginning of a political solution, adding that the comment was not meant literally.
If the aim of de Mistura’s statement was to spark political maneuvering, the Syrian opposition has expressed its frequent misgivings about the ideas which the U.N. envoy proposed for the solution in Syria, especially given that he had begun to enter details into the political process which distance it from its basic goals as stipulated in the Geneva declaration and agreed upon internationally, calling for the formation of a fully empowered transitional governing authority — something Assad rejects.
De Mistura has repeatedly tried to remove Assad from the circle of danger and to remove him from power, as he proposed in a September 2015 plan for a solution in Syria which included two documents, the first containing the executive framework for the Geneva declaration, and the second framing the work of four groups of issues (peace and defense, political and legal issues, military and counterterrorism affairs, and rebuilding and development). However it was completely devoid of any call for Assad’s departure, and indeed he was proposed as a partner in the political process despite the massacres which the regime has committed.
It was notable in this plan that de Mistura gave the Assad regime powers to choose members which would negotiate in its name, while this right was confiscated for the opposition, as he said that he would choose himself who would represent them, which was met with categorical rejection from opposition members.
The plan carried a clear direction from removing Assad to the need for the opposition to work with the regime through integrating their forces together in a joint military council. The U.N. envoy tried to install the regime policy in all negotiating processes, based on the priority of fighting terrorism and not on a political transition which would lead to a change in the regime.
Mohamad Sabra, a member in the opposition negotiating delegation in the Geneva 2, said at the time that “transforming Assad from a war criminal who has carried out horrifying crimes against humanity, one of which was using chemical weapons … into someone fighting against terrorism is another crime against the Syrian victims who are demanding justice in accordance with the legitimate international declarations.”
Before this, de Mistura had put forward, in 2014, an initiative involving “freeze zones” which called for a reduction of conflict in a number of Syrian regions, one of which was Aleppo. The initiative tried to carry out “local reconciliations” between the regime forces and the opposition, and to unite the efforts of the two parties to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and to confront terrorism. Notably, this initiative was welcomed by the Assad regime.
Apart from the fate of Assad, de Mistura has led intensive efforts in harmony with Russian policy. One such instance was his effort break up the Syrian opposition delegation and add to it, by imposing figures who were known for their ties to the regime and Moscow, such as Qadri Jamil and Randa Kassis, who is friends with Russian officials, and other figures who call themselves the “Hemeimeem group” which is closely tied to Russia.
De Mistura had refused to limit the opposition delegation to the High Negotiations Committee which included military and political figures from the entire spectrum of the Syrian people.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.