UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Syria called Monday for talks between Russia and the United States to help end the more than nine-year-old war, saying the two major powers could play “a key role.”
Geir Pedersen’s encouragement to Moscow and Washington to take a leading role was his first public appeal to the rival powers on opposing sides of the conflict — Russia which has been the key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the United States which supports the opposition.
Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that the three countries that have taken the lead in arranging cease-fires in Syria — Assad allies Russia and Iran and opposition backer Turkey “are key players too.”
He said members of a committee from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society who are supposed to draft a new constitution for the country and the 15 council nations are key players as well.
Pedersen said there have been too many fleeting opportunities in the past decades to move from conflict to a political path that were lost, and “those missed moments were followed by renewed violence and a hardening of positions among regional and international actors.”
Pedersen said there is anxiety that while violence has somewhat abated at the moment it could escalate at any time, and deep disappointment that the political process hasn’t delivered tangible improvements for the Syrian people.
“And there is a widespread sense that international competition is more prominent than cooperation, with Syrians paying the price,” he told the U.N.’s top council.
With some calm at the moment and the world facing common threats from the COVID-19 pandemic and Islamic State extremists, Pedersen stressed that building trust between key international parties and with Syrians “is essential — and could unlock progress” toward peace.
He then encouraged the U.S. and Russia along with the others to engage in dialogue.
Ultimately, Pedersen said, “there is a need to come together to support a renewed effort in a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, U.N.-facilitated political process” toward a political settlement based on the 2015 Security Council resolution that endorsed a road map to peace including drafting a new constitution and U.N.-supervised elections.
The longstanding divisions between the U.S. and Russia over Syria were evident in their speeches to the council that followed, which gave no indication of a desire for talks.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said fully implementing the 2015 road map, starting with an immediate nationwide cease-fire, is “what will move Syria toward a future of peace” — and that’s what the Security Council must pursue.
She urged the council to ensure that the Syrian government reverse “its destructive pattern of behavior against its own people” and agree to a cease-fire instead of pursuing a military solution to the conflict.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called for the lifting of unilateral “suffocating sanctions” imposed by the U.S. and others which he said were preventing Syria from buying medical items to tackle COVID-19, and he criticized the illegal presence of U.S. forces in northeast Syria.
Nebenzia said Syrians themselves need to address common threats including the coronavirus, terrorism, foreign occupation and restoration of the country’s unity and territorial integrity.
“The external community should come together to provide humanitarian assistance and the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria to facilitate the political process without interfering in it,” he said.