A Consequential Meeting for Peace in Syria

This is a big moment for Syria. And the world.

Foreign ministers from most of the Security Council, including John Kerry and his Russian counter-part Sergei Lavrov are in New York today to debate, discuss and (hopefully) approve a Security Council resolution that could pave the way for an international diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war.

If adopted, the resolution would be the first time that the Security Council has directly inserted itself into a peace process for Syria. To be sure, there have been previous resolutions on Syria. But these dealt with discrete parts of the Syrian conflict–like chemical weapons use or humanitarian access. If a resolution is passed today, the paralysis that has stymied meaningful diplomacy at the Security Council for the last five years would finally be overcome.

The resolution would broadly enshrine the plan laid out by what’s known at the International Syria Support Group (The ISSG) which last month in Vienna put forth a broad plan for a ceasefire and political solution to Syria’s civil war. This group includes all the permanent members of the Security Council, plus relevant regional actors like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran.

Broadly speaking, the plan drawn up in Vienna plan calls for a ceasefire, followed by two years of a political transition, eventually leading to elections. Some key questions, like the precise status of Bashar al Assad, were left somewhat vague. In the meantime, the ISSG also asked Jordan to lead a process in which certain rebel groups (like ISIS and al Nusra) would be deemed “terrorists” and excluded from the peace process. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is trying to gather the other disparate rebel groups to form a somewhat cohesive negotiating bloc. The plan also calls for the Secretary General to lay out a plan for the monitoring or enforcement of a ceasefire.

Those were the broad outlines of the Vienna meeting. And today, foreign ministers at the Security Council are debating the finer points of a resolution that would kickstart this plan into action.

Some key points of contention are likely to still remain vague. There will likely not, for example, be a clear indication of Bashar al Assad’s future status. But even if that question is left unresolved, that the international community has come together around a more or less coherent plan for political transition in Syria; that this includes countries with competing interests in Syria, like Russia, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Iran; and that the  strategy is given the imprimatur of the Security Council means that the resolution being debated today could be the first meaningful step towards a lasting resolution to Syria’s brutal civil war.

UPDATE: The resolution passed unanimously at about 415 ET. The full text is here.

UPDATE 2: The former US Ambassador to Iraq explains the Syria peace process.