Security Council Tries to Seize the Moment in Push for Syria Aid Access

The Syria resolution passed on Friday to put chemical stockpiles under international control is significant in its own right. But for those of us who follow the UN closely one key question is the extent to which this temporary moment of Council unity can be leveraged to achieve other international goals on Syria.

To their great credit, the Australian president of the Security Council is willing to test this question with a Presidential Statement calling for greater humanitarian access inside Syria.

The draft aid text is based on a wish list that U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos sent the council last month that included allowing cross-border delivery, humanitarian pauses in fighting and advance notice of military offensives. Diplomats described the list as ambitious.

The draft statement urges the Syrian authorities to promptly facilitate “safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries in accordance with the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance.”

While diplomats said there has so far been “constructive engagement” by Russia on an aid statement, others warned that Moscow was unlikely to back a council declaration urging Assad’s government to allow the delivery of assistance across borders.

About 10 million people inside Syria need aid, though because of government restrictions and fighting it has been exceedingly difficult for aid agencies to deliver vital humanitarian relief. A Security Council statement (which must be unanimously approved) would be an important demonstration of support for humanitarian agencies, and could help ease restrictions imposed by the Syrian government.  It would not be as strong as a resolution, which would be legally binding, but it could help move things in the right direction on the ground.

Big credit goes to the Australian foreign ministry for pressing this point. The chemical weapons resolution provided a foundation upon which the Council can build. It is incumbent upon council members to make the most of this rare moment of unity. If this statement can pass, the next obvious step would be for intensified diplomacy at the council around a durable international diplomatic solution to the crisis.