On Friday evening (18 December), the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing a road map for the peace process in Syria. The vote was preceded by tough negotiations in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which was meeting in New York. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the outcome, saying that he and his counterparts would work together to ensure that the next hurdles on the way to a political settlement for Syria were removed.
On Friday the world looked with hope to New York, where the members of the International Syria Support Group had gathered for their third meeting.
At its two previous meetings in Vienna, the Group had managed, despite marked differences of opinion, to agree on the basis for a road map towards a transitional government comprising representatives of both the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, as well as towards working out a ceasefire.
The aim in New York was to give these agreements more concrete shape and make the results of the meeting binding for the entire international community with a UN Security Council decision.
It quickly became obvious that these latest talks in New York would not be easy. For a long time it remained unclear whether it would be possible at all to put in place the conditions for a UN Security Council resolution.
During a break in the negotiations, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said the talks were “difficult”. At the same time he praised the great seriousness with which the negotiations were being conducted, despite “very different positions”. According to Steinmeier, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were trying to bring the various standpoints together.
Steinmeier: Security Council resolution was “a difficult birth”
Two hours later than planned, the breakthrough did finally come: the negotiations had cleared the way for a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Steinmeier said there had been “hours of hard struggle for the future of Syria”.
Steinmeier was visibly relieved, saying: “I am particularly pleased that there will be a clear mandate for the United Nations and UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to conduct the negotiations now.”
Steinmeier said de Mistura was to try to get a ceasefire between the armed forces of the opposition and the regime with a view to commencing work on forming a transitional government.
UN Security Council votes for resolution on Syria
The UN Security Council then met in New York in the evening and unanimously adopted the resolution on Syria. This marks a major success: after five years of civil war and more than 250,000 deaths, the international community is now behind the road map for a peace process in Syria negotiated by the International Syria Support Group.
The importance of this Security Council meeting was underlined by the list of attendees: alongside UN Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon, these included the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council: Kerry (USA), Lavrov (Russia), Wang (China), Fabius (France) and Hammond (UK). Germany was represented by Foreign Minister Steinmeier.
And so, at the end of the year, despite all the difficulties, there is – for the first time in a long time – hope of progress towards ending the conflict in Syria. Whether it is possible to keep everyone on board and make further progress will be seen in the next few weeks. At the close of the ISSG meeting, UN Special Envoy de Mistura announced that he would be issuing invitations to stakeholders in Syria as early as the beginning of January. The negotiations are then to begin in the second half of January and lead to the formation of a transitional government within six months.
However, Germany’s Foreign Minister warned against exaggerated expectations, pointing to the continuing difficulties. Steinmeier said: “We are sure that 2016 will not be any easier. We have to be aware that when it comes to agreeing the details, we will experience setbacks. But when you look at what has been happening in Syria for the past five years, I think it will be worth every effort.” At the same time, Steinmeier stressed that he and his colleagues would “do everything to ensure that the next hurdles are removed”.