Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is attending the third meeting of the International Syria Support Group in New York this Friday (18 December). In the run‑up to the conference, he met his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates and Iran on Thursday to explore options for making progress in the efforts to reach a political settlement to the Syrian conflict.
Speaking in New York on Thursday evening ahead of the international conference on Syria this Friday, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that “the most important step we need to achieve are further steps towards a ceasefire”. Shortly beforehand, Steinmeier had met his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for preliminary talks at the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations.
Syrian conflict: “There is movement”
After the two meetings, Steinmeier expressed cautious optimism. “We are now seeing some movement in this matter.” This had also become apparent last weekend when the most important opposition groups to Syrian ruler Assad met in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.
Steinmeier also pointed out that important meetings on the Syrian conflict had taken place in previous weeks in Vienna, Paris, Riyadh and Moscow. These “conferences on three continents” showed that there was “a determination to try to change something after five years of civil war and 300,000 fatalities in Syria”. Steinmeier said that the priority at the meeting in New York was now to harmonise the positions among the opposition as far as possible with what had been discussed at the political table at previous conferences in Vienna. A ceasefire between the opposition’s armed forces and Assad’s security forces was needed. “We will see if we can manage to make further progress at the meeting in New York.”
The New York meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) builds on two previous conferences on Syria that took place in Vienna. The aim of the Vienna process, which involves a group of 17 foreign ministers and representatives of three international organisations, is to carry forward the road map agreed at the previous meeting for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict and to make progress on forming a transitional government. The crucial feature of the International Syria Support Group is that for the first time it brings together all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, European representatives and influential regional powers – Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other.
Meeting on Syria: a glimmer of hope for a political solution
In the run‑up to the meeting in New York, representatives of the Syrian opposition also met for the first time last week in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Foreign Minister Steinmeier praised this meeting of the opposition a few days ago as a “first concrete step towards implementing the Vienna road map”.
He said: “The fact that agreement was successfully reached on a secretariat to select a negotiating delegation, as well as on a joint declaration unambiguously supporting a transitional political process, is more than we dared expect – especially given the large number of groupings involved and their widely diverging political opinions and objectives.”
At the same time, he emphasised that there was still a long way to go to reach a political solution. “It is our joint task to ensure that the faint glimmer of hope from the first two Vienna meetings on Syria will burn stronger and bring light to the people in Syria.”