UNITED NATIONS – The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution to endorse an international bid to end the nearly five-year-long civil war in Syria that has claimed more than a quarter million lives.
The resolution called for Syrian peace talks on a transitional government to begin in early January next year. It also called for a nationwide ceasefire in the war-torn Syria.
Under the terms of the resolution, a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian government should be established in Syria within six months and UN-supervised “free and fair elections” should be held within 18 months.
The transition process should be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, the resolution said, stressing that the Syrian people would decide the future of their country. It also emphasises that the truce would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against terrorist groups operating in the Arab country.
During the Security Council’s meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the resolution puts the future of Syria in the hands of its people. “For this to work, the process has to be led and shaped and decided by the men and women of Syria,” he said.
But the obstacles to ending the nearly five-year civil war remained daunting, with no side in the conflict able to secure a clear military victory. Despite their agreement, the major powers were bitterly divided on who may represent the opposition as well as on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said. “This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the ground-work for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support,” US Secretary of State said.
The resolution also called for the UN to present the council with options for monitoring a ceasefire within one month.
Talks between Syria’s government and opposition groups should begin in early January, the resolution said, though Kerry said mid-to-late January was more likely. It was one of the strongest appeals for peace by the council, divided for years on the issue of Syria’s war, since Russia and China began vetoing a series of Western-drafted resolutions on the conflict in October 2011.
The resolution came after Moscow and Washington hammered out a deal on a text. The two powers had had very different views on what should happen in Syria.
Kerry made clear that there were still differences on the future of Assad – a close ally of Russia and Iran who Western countries want ousted – as well as on the question of which Syrian opposition groups would have a seat at the table in talks with the government. “We are under no illusions about the obstacles that exist,” he said. “There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community, especially about the future of President Assad, he said.
The resolution does not address Assad’s fate, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “This is a clear response to attempts to impose a solution from the outside on Syrians on any issues, including those regarding its president,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the talks between the Syrian government and opposition would only succeed if there were credible guarantees on the departure of Assad. “How could this man unite a people that he has in part massacred?” Fabius asked. “The idea that he could once again stand for elections is unacceptable to us,” he said.
Syria’s Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said that President Assad’s government was prepared to take part in the talks in good faith. “I reiterate the readiness of the Syrian government to participate effectively on any sincere effort where the Syrians will determine their choices through dialogue under Syrian leadership and not foreign intervention,” he said, adding that all countries should coordinate with his government.
Agreement on a resolution came after a meeting of the so-called International Syria Support Group at New York’s Palace Hotel.
Foreign ministers from 17 countries, including Lavrov, Kerry and other European and Middle Eastern ministers, as well as top diplomats from regional rivals Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, were in New York for the meetings.
The council, which met at foreign ministers level, asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations early next month on a political transition as a step to lasting peace, in line with the 2012 Geneva Communique and consistent with the 14 November 2015 International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on the issue.
The resolution was adopted unanimously after UN secretary General briefed the Security Council on his meeting earlier in the day with the International Syria Support Group, comprised of the Arab League, the European Union, the UN, and 17 countries, including the US and Russia, which had been seeking a path forward for several months.
“As the first resolution to focus on the political path to resolving the crisis, this marks a very important step on which we must build,” the secretary-general told the council. “We see a country in ruins, millions of its people scattered across the world, and a whirlwind of radicalism and sectarianism that challenges regional and global security,” he said.
The council called for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN to establish within six months credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under the UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote.
The resolution asked Ban to determine the modalities of a ceasefire and plan to support its implementation, while urging member states to accelerate all efforts to achieve a ceasefire, including through pressing all relevant parties to adhere to one. Emphasising the need for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism the council asked the secretary-general to report back to it on options with a month and called on member states to provide expertise to support such a mechanism.
It reiterated previous calls for member states to suppress terrorist acts by IS in Iraq, Al-Nusra Front and all others with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The resolution also called on the parties to immediately allow rapid and safe access throughout Syria for immediate humanitarian aid to reach all people in need and to release arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children.
Finally, it demanded that all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians, including medical facilities and personnel and the indiscriminate use of weapons, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and stressed the critical need to build conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their home areas.