New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. (Screengrab)
Updated 15 January 2019

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

  • Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
  • The seasoned Norwegian diplomat replaces previous UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura

DAMASCUS: The new special UN envoy to Syria began his first trip to Damascus on Tuesday, facing the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

Norway’s Geir Pedersen, who replaces Staffan de Mistura, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The seasoned diplomat, 63, was seen entering a Damascus hotel and is expected to hold talks with senior officials, although no official program for his visit was published.

Pedersen simply said on social media that he was “looking forward to productive meetings here.”

Officials in the government of Bashar Assad set the tone for the new envoy’s tenure shortly after news of his appointment in October last year.

“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.

Assad opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.

Pedersen has not yet spoken publicly about his mission and it remains unclear what his approach will be.

De Mistura, who announced in October he was resigning for “purely personal reasons,” ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push for the formation of a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution for Syria.

In December, he acknowledged that the committee would not be formed by year’s end as was hoped.

“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” said the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

A track of peace talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition delegations is clinically dead and observers argue Assad will see little need to revive it.

Three years into the conflict that erupted when the government repressed anti-regime demonstrations, Assad was clinging to barely a third of Syrian territory and his days at the helm looked numbered.

Assad, who has been in power for more than 18 years, has now reclaimed much of the territory he lost at the beginning of the war, largely thanks to the military backing of veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia.

Non-jihadist opposition groups across Syria have little or no clout on the ground and negligible bargaining power in negotiations with Damascus.

De Mistura had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.

Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role, which he described as “mission impossible.”

Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians.


Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks on Syrian crisis at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 48 min 1 sec ago

Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

  • Erdogan says Iran betraying the consensus between the two countries

ANKARA: Recent developments on the ground in Syria may be proof of the demise of the already fragile partnership between Turkey and Iran, the two guarantor states of the Astana process alongside with Russia. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi announced that Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.
Prior to departing for Sochi, to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “I condemn Iran’s stance on Operation Peace Spring. Unfortunately, there are splintering voices rising from Iran. This situation disturbs my colleagues and myself.”
Erdogan also accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries, after Tehran condemned Turkey’s ongoing operation in northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces and demanded “an immediate stop to the attacks and the exit of the Turkish military from Syrian territory.”
The statements are considered by experts another sign that the alliance of convenience between the two regional competitors is ending, with their regional interests beginning to conflict.
Iran has always been a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has been keen to engage Syrian Kurds, Assad’s government and Turkey in dialogue following Ankara’s offensive into northern Syria, within the framework of the Adana Agreement as a legal framework to establish security along the border.
Tehran also held surprise military drills near the Turkish border on the same day Turkey launched its operation into northern Syria.
Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies, said: “With the removal of US troops in northern Syria, which both Ankara and Tehran opposed for different reasons, Turkey and Iran’s conflicting strategic interests are now naturally coming to the forefront.”
Moreover, according to Tanchum, Iran has already fought elements of the paramilitary forces now that are now partnering with Turkey.
“Tehran is distressed that such elements are being empowered. While Iran needs Turkish cooperation in the face crippling US sanctions, Iran needs Russia’s cooperation much more,” he told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi says Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.

• Iran has already fought the elements of the paramilitary forces that are now partnering with Turkey.

However, Tanchum thinks that the idea Tehran would triangulate between Ankara and Moscow as a way of preserving its own position in Syria seems quite unlikely.
“If Iran has to choose between Turkey and Russia in Syria, it will choose Russia. In this sense, the previous dynamics of the Astana process are no longer in place,” he said.
However, Dr. Bilgehan Alagoz, lecturer at Istanbul Marmara University’s Institute for Middle East Studies, said that rumors about the death of the Iranian-Turkish alliance in Syria may be a bit exaggerated, at least for now.
For Alagoz, Iran is hesitant about cooperation between Turkey and the US, which has the possibility of creating a confrontation against Iran’s interests in Syria.
“On the other hand, Iran is uncomfortable with the US military presence in Syria. Therefore, Iran is facing a dilemma,” she told Arab News.
According to Alagoz, at this point Iran needs to pursue diplomacy with both Turkey and Russia.
“Thus, I do not think that the Iranian statements against Turkey will continue for a long time,” she added.
With the civil war now in its eighth year in Syria, Assad’s forces have gradually gained control of strategic cities in northwestern Idlib province, like Khan Sheikhoun, with Russian and Iranian support. The Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military observation posts in the region over the summer.
In the meantime, in a surprise decision on Monday evening, Turkey appointed former Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison in the US over Iranian sanctions breaches, as the new CEO of the Istanbul Stock Exchange.