UN’s Syria mediator should keep open mind

The conflict in Syria is a poster child for the United Nations’ failure to live up to its proper dispute prevention and resolution role.

UN’s Syria mediator should keep open mind
Syria talks mediator Lakhdar Brahimi. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Part of the blame lies with the structure itself of the UN, where the “great powers” are permitted to be above international influence and the boundaries of nations do not align with the world’s natural groupings.

Still, part of the deficiency of the process lies in the approach used by the mediator in the Syria talks in Geneva.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi apologized over the weekend to Syrians for failing to make greater progress in the Geneva talks and criticized Syrian President Assad’s representatives for refusing to discuss his stepping down as part of a potential agreement.

There are other ways to proceed and arrive at a solution that is mutually acceptable to all the stakeholders, if only the parties and especially the mediator keep an open mind about how to get to the end goal.

Brahimi appears to be rigid in the outcomes he is willing to consider — for him, the only option seems to be for Assad to ultimately step down.

And because this is not negotiable for the Syrian government, the talks are at a stalemate.

But one must consider the history of the region to get a bigger picture of possible solutions.

The “nation” of Syria was cobbled together unnaturally by colonial occupiers.

To reach a sustainable political resolution to the conflict the borders must be redrawn to reflect the natural groupings.

The ancestral Alawite homeland stretches from northern Lebanon to the Hatay Peninsula in Turkey, west of the Orontes River.

Northeast Syria is part of the natural Kurdish homeland, which is divided across four countries.

The Syrian, or Syro-Arabian Desert, is the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula, east of the Orontes River and west of the Euphrates, which has been inhabited historically by Bedouin tribes — part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group — and Damascus is located on an oasis in this desert.

And the northwest region of Syria, including Aleppo, historically has been a multicultural area that includes Druze, Christians, and Jews that given international protection could be safe, multicultural, and tolerant once again.

Leave Assad in office if that is what his people want — it should be for them to decide.

But redraw the borders at their natural locations — which moves the Alawite leadership out of the capital.

 Elizabeth Barrett

(Elizabeth Barrett is a lawyer and expert in mediation based at the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, California.)

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘The war must end now’: UN Sec-Gen meets Swedish PM in Stockholm

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met Sweden's Prime Minister in Stockholm on Wednesday, ahead of the conference marking the 50th anniversary of the city's historic environment summit .

'The war must end now': UN Sec-Gen meets Swedish PM in Stockholm

After a bilateral meeting with Magdalena Andersson on the security situation in Europe, Guterres warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a global food crisis that would hurt some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

“It is causing immense suffering, destruction and devastation of the country. But it also inflames a three-dimensional global crisis in food, energy and finance that is pummelling the most vulnerable people, countries and economies,” the Portuguese diplomat told a joint press conference with Andersson. 

He stressed the need for “quick and decisive action to ensure a steady flow of food and energy,” including “lifting export restrictions, allocating surpluses and reserves to vulnerable populations and addressing food price increases to calm market volatility.”

Between the two, Russia and Ukraine produce around 30 percent of the global wheat supply.

Guterres was in Stockholm to take part in the Stockholm 50+ conference, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. 

The conference, which was held on the suggestion of the Swedish government in 1972 was the first UN meeting to discuss human impacts on the global environment, and led to the establishment of the UN Environment Program (UNEP). 

At the joint press conference, Andersson said that discussions continued between Sweden and Turkey over the country’s continuing opposition to Sweden’s application to join the Nato security alliance. 

“We have held discussions with Turkey and I’m looking forward to continuing the constructive meetings with Turkey in the near future,” she said, while refusing to go into detail on Turkey’s demands. 

“We are going to take the demands which have been made of Sweden directly with them, and the same goes for any misunderstandings which have arisen,” she said. 

At the press conference, Guterres condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “a violation of its territorial integrity and a violation of the UN Charter”.

“The war must end now,” he said.