‘Thematic’ talks planned as UN-led Syria peace initiative stalls

‘Thematic’ talks planned as UN-led Syria peace initiative stalls
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has invited factions in Syria’s bitter civil war to “thematic” talks to keep the sides talking and the possibility of a peace settlement alive.
3 min read
30 July, 2015
Ban (left) and de Mistura face an uphill battle in the Security Council [Getty]

The UN envoy to Syria on Wednesday invited Syrians to take part in what he called "thematic" discussions to keep alive stalled efforts to negotiate an end to the war.

"Sadly there is still no consensus on the way forward," Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council after two months of meetings with key players in the conflict.

"The UN is obliged and all of us are obliged to keep the issue alive," added the Swedish-Italian diplomat, appointed last year to what many termed "mission impossible."

"I now intend to invite Syrians to parallel, or simultaneous, thematic discussions through intra-Syrian working groups."

De Mistura said he intends to invite Syrians to parallel thematic discussions through intra-Syrian working groups.

But de Mistura gave no details on when or where the talks could take place, and who might participate.

Proposed discussions would focus on protecting civilians, political and constitutional issues, military and security matters, public institutions and reconstruction.

"Such an international initiative will require the support of a contact group and we will get to that at the right time."

The envoy said "the fear of black flags over Damascus", referring to the emblem of the extremist Islamic State group, was driving some to re-consider positions, but said there was still significant disagreement on even the causes of the conflict.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to endorse de Mistura's recommendations, and to work to persuade parties to the conflict to take part "constructively."

He said Syria was "the world's largest humanitarian crisis."

Humanitarian catastrophe, diplomatic paralysis

At least 250,000 Syrians have been killed and approximately 12 million men, women and children, more than half of the pre-war population, have been forced to flee their homes by the fighting, the UN chief said.

Ban said there was an "urgent need for the international community to act now if we want to save and preserve what is left of Syria.

"As the situation deteriorates, Syrians predict that the prospects for achieving a political solution will also fade."

It was a message that his 68-year-old envoy echoed.

Ban said there was an urgent need for the international community to act now if we want to save and preserve what is left of Syria.

There were "profound risks" to failing to act now, de Mistura told the Security Council. Each passing month, he said, "reduces the prospects of ever restoring Syria as a unified state."

Ban instructed de Mistura in late March to step up UN efforts to find a political solution.

Since then, the envoy has visited China, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iran, one of the Syrian regime's main backers.

He also met Syrian opposition figures in Amman and Cairo.

De Mistura's predecessors, the respected diplomats Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, both resigned after failing to bring peace to the country.

The Security Council has been paralyzed by deep divisions over Syria, and many initiatives to end the war have been blocked.