By Benjamin Villanti
By Benjamin Villanti
Morocco World News
New York, October 24, 2012
Last week, Lakhdar Brahimi made his first public appeal for a cease-fire in Syria during the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha. His spokesman issued the announcement following Brahmi’s talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran. The envoy had visited capitals in Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the days before, also explaining his idea for a cease-fire to these countries, which are recognized for their influence on the warring parties in Syria.
Today, Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council will be briefed by Brahimi through video-conference on his efforts before the Council’s fifteen countries possibly offer a public endorsement of his Adha-cease fire proposal.
What is the strategy behind the United Nations and Brahimi’s current drive to obtain a cease-fire over the Eid Al-Adha holiday that will begin October 26 and last for several days?
Brahimi and the UN Secretary General have called for a unilateral cease-fire, in which the Syrian authorities take the initiative and first step by stopping its military activities over several days during the holiday, allowing time to get the much less united opposition groups to follow-suit. The centralized chain of command of the government make the Syrian authorities much more capable of enacting a cease-fire. Meanwhile opposition forces might be more likely to accede to a truce having been made more confident that the Syrian government is serious about ending the fighting.
The United Nations, however, recognizes that even if a cease-fire is achieved, it will not be sustainable unless there is a plan for a political process and negotiated settlement. Western countries, and even the Secretary General himself, have said that this should lead to a transition, in which Assad leaves power and democracy is established. The Russians have warned against interference that predetermines the fate of the Syrian President.
Here, Brahimi and the UN still view the Geneva Communique as a basis for a negotiated transition. This is an agreement which came out of the “Action Group” meeting organized last June by then UN-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan. As has been pointed out, the June 30th communiqué is the last time that the permanent members of the Security Council have been in agreement on Syria, when they took part in this meeting with other key countries of the region. In addition, the communiqué contains “interesting language” on a political transition that includes establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers, which the agreement notes could be composed of “members of the present government and the opposition.”
The UN however has readily admitted that the objective of obtaining an Adha ceasefire may not be very realistic. “But it does give us a date that we can talk about” and “to focus on,” claims an official.
One of the challenges for the UN is that at this point there does not exist a recognized leadership among the opposition with whom to mediate. Additionally, in the UN estimation, both sides seem to believe that they can win the conflict militarily.
The Secretary General has repeatedly announced that he does not believe a military solution is possible. But even if one side could prevail militarily, UN mediators are trying to convince the parties that this would prove a “Pyrrhic victory”, the term one official used. Whichever party might win, will rule over a ruined country with destroyed infrastructure and ongoing sectarian war. The costs of victory would exceed the benefits is the view that the UN is trying to convince the two sides to take.
An additional benefit perceived by Brahimi and the UN of an Adha-cease fire is that the holiday occurs close to the timing of several scheduled meetings of the opposition. These include a National Unity Conference in Qatar reportedly to be held November 4, and a Friends of Syria meeting November 3 in Morocco, when the UN can try to persuade the opposition groups about the costs of a military victory and to pursue a political solution.
Many journalists and diplomats have lamented that Brahimi has yet to announce a comprehensive plan on Syria. His caution, however, very much has to do with the fact that he believes he should not do so until conditions are in place for a plan’s acceptance. A premature announcement could result in one or both sides rejecting it; leaving the UN’s chief mediator with another failed plan, as was the case with Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan.
Brahimi was quoted by Reuters as stating to reporters Sunday following his meeting with President Assad in Damascus, “We hope this Eid in Syria will be calm … If we do find that this calm continued through the Eid, we will try to build on it. If that does not happen, we will try nevertheless and work to open the path to hope for the Syrian people.”
The holiday starts Friday, when everyone will have a better idea of whether the wheels will have been set in motion for this latest effort to gain traction.
Benjamin Villanti is Morocco World News Co-editor