The fate of President Bashar al-Assad was not the only decision the US and Russia have deferred in order to reach an agreement on Security Council Resolution 2254, as several obstacles continue to loom over the roadmap authored by the first international adopted political resolution in nearly five years. While representatives of the regime and the opposition, whose positions have no significant impact on the international and regional understandings, rushed to declare various reservations about the resolution.
The resolution, which was approved following extensive negotiations in New York between the five permanent members of the Security Council and 17 ministers of the International Syria Support Group, opted for constructive ambiguity and mutual concessions in an attempt to secure a consensus. The result was a final draft outlining the maximum Moscow could get, and the minimum Washington would surrender.
The resolution adopted the Vienna statement, issued on November 14, as a basis for negotiations between the regime and the opposition to: form a government within six months, draft a new constitution and hold elections under the auspices of the United Nations within 18 months. Washington and Moscow have announced the negotiations will be held in Geneva in the first week of January.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday as a preliminary step to reach a resolution. It is believed that Washington has abandoned its demand for the departure of Assad, replacing it with calls for the formation of a transitional body following the negotiation phase (between four and six months). Moscow, in exchange, has accepted the timetable, delaying the "problem" of Assad until the end of the election process.
But before the ink of the resolution could dry, the dispute over the fate of Assad between the West and Russia resurfaced. US President Barack Obama reiterated that Assad must step down, while Putin pushed for the possibility of working with all parties, including Assad, to reach a political solution. The positions reflect similar remarks by US and Russian officials following the issuance of the Geneva statement in June 2012, as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed the statement called for Assad to “immediately” step down, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the agreement did not specify fate of the Syrian president, adding that the transitional body would be "supervised by Assad”, and the "full executive powers would not extend to the Syrian army and security services."
According to sources, prior to the issuance of Resolution 2254, the Russians sought to remove any reference to the Geneva statement and pressed for the removal of a paragraph in the preface of the resolution that stipulates: "the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions." The Americans, supported by their British and French allies, insisted on the paragraph, but accepted Moscow’s request to repeat the reference to the Vienna I and II statements.
It seems apparent that Moscow has sought to create an alternative reference for the Geneva statement by focusing on Vienna statement, based on the belief that the conditions under which the Geneva statement was issued have changed – both in terms of the growing Islamic State threat or in terms of the implications of Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
The second obstacle is related to the deadline regarding the formation of a transitional governing body, as Kerry confirmed it would be finalized within “a month or two”, with Lavrov instead suggesting a timeframe of six months.
The third obstacle surrounds the implementation of a ceasefire over all Syrian territory, as UN experts embarked on the drafting of a plan for a ceasefire that includes the deployment of international observers. The decision does not require the ceasefire to start negotiations, but suggests the truce would begin as soon as the Syrian government and the opposition agree on the initial actions on the path of political transition under UN supervision. Questions have been raised about whether ISIS and Nusra Front will commit to the ceasefire, in addition to concerns about the role of Iranian-backed militias, amid demands for the “withdrawal of all foreign fighters” and a set date for this step.
The fourth obstacle pertains to terrorist organizations inside Syria, as the ministerial meeting for the International Syria Support Group failed to pass a single list after the Jordanian foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, submitted a report about the results of his consultations with different parties. Judeh proposed a list of around 167 terrorist organizations. When a number of countries insisted on the inclusion of opposition factions such as Ahrar ash-Sham Islamic Movement and the Army of Islam to the list, Arab countries responded by insisting on the inclusion of 18 Iranian militias, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
A consensus was reached on the formation of a working group from Iran, Russia, Jordan and France to submit a list to the United Nations. The Turkish side proposed the inclusion of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, led by Saleh Muslim, despite US support for the group’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units, in their fight against ISIS. While the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, suggested Saleh Muslim be part of the negotiating delegation.
Here lies the fifth obstacle: the opposition representation or the so-called ‘white list’. Russia has insisted on moving a paragraph that pays tribute to the results of the conference of Syrian opposition in Riyadh from the body of the resolution to its prelude. Moreover, Moscow added the Cairo and Moscow conferences to the resolution for de Mistura to select an opposition delegation from the three conferences.
This explains the concern of the opposition, as President of the Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja said that the UN resolution “undermines the results of the meetings in Riyadh and dilutes previous UN resolutions on the political solution.” Al-Hayat has learned that the Supreme Negotiating Committee, which includes representatives from the full spectrum of the Syrian opposition, including the Coalition and the National Coordination Committee, has delayed sending a list of its delegation to de Mistura, in an attempt to ensure the addition of another 10 names to the list for the Committee, which currently includes 15 names.
On the other hand, Damascus believes that the success of any political process requires the involvement of the government as an essential partner, according to the Syrian delegation.
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.