Moscow and Washington have made a deal at the UN Security Council to reduce the number of discussions on the Syrian conflict, reflecting the long-standing impotence of the UN.
Russian and US diplomats have secretly pursued their common agenda of reducing the number of discussions in the UN Security Council on Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons and the political transition in the war-torn country, according to American magazine Foreign Policy.
Both countries are working on a plan to only hold meetings on Assad's alleged use of chemical warfare in the Syrian conflict on a quarterly basis, while the question of political transition could be discussed once every two months.
The diplomats on both sides, as per the Foreign Policy report, have agreed to merge the discussion on Assad's legitimacy into the larger humanitarian issue.
"I've been working for the Security Council for a year now, and I can put together a statement for any country," said one of Foreign Policy's interlocutors. "We say the same things over and over again three times a month. That time could be used more productively. Proponents of the US-Russian plan believe it would bring a constructive approach to the discussion of the Syrian armed conflict on the New York stage."
Nevertheless, the idea, presented to other countries' diplomats as early as January 31, provoked a wave of criticism. For example, British and French officials said a broader range of countries could have been involved in the initiative.
Some members of the UN Security Council believe that the decision to reduce diplomatic pressure on Assad illustrates an attempt by Russia and the US to monopolise the platform. The critics complain that the initiative was presented to other countries as a done deal, which was considered rude.
The State Department press service neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the deal, but said that any plan of this kind requires the agreement of other Council members. In other words, the discussion could continue.
Out of priority
"Syria has fallen lower on the list of priorities because the US is now more focused on the Iran nuclear file and the Ukraine issue," Dima Moussa of the Syrian Negotiations Committee observed. "More than a year has passed since the Biden administration took office, and its policy on Syria is still being reconsidered."
Moussa complained about the fact that the White House has not even bothered to appoint a special representative on related issues.
The point about the Biden administration's soft stance on the Assad regime has long been commonplace. In the autumn of 2021, the US Treasury Department, which has traditionally been a watchdog of the Damascus sanctions law, even allowed representatives of American NGOs to interact with regime-controlled areas.
Not surprisingly, a bipartisan movement has come into being in the House of Representatives, calling for the administration to clearly articulate its policy on the Syrian dossier.
In January, lawmakers, joined by Gregory Meeks, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued an appeal to the White House calling for clarification of the substance of the Syrian strategy. They demanded that Biden explain his apparent reluctance to use the sanctioned "Caesar's Law" and his loyalty to “rehabilitating” Assad.
Opportunity to rest
In recent years, the UN Security Council has become the scene of a diplomatic struggle over supply lines for UN aid. In 2014, against the backdrop of active fighting in Syria, the international structure agreed on the operation of a number of border checkpoints: Bab al Salam, Bab al Hawa, Al Yarubiya, and Al Ramata. At the time, Moscow did not interfere. However, as the regime's forces regained control of some territories, the Russian side, as its main guarantor, pressured the Security Council to close the border crossings.
For Moscow, the problem was tightly coupled with the question of Assad's legitimacy. In 2020, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said that the UN mechanism should be replaced with an alternative that would involve more implications of official Damascus in the humanitarian delivery process. The diplomat stressed that the humanitarian algorithm, agreed upon by the UN Security Council, was originally conceived "as an emergency temporary measure." To date, the Bab al Hawa checkpoint on the Turkish border is still in operation.
Speaking to TRT Russian, former US State Department special envoy for the political transition in Syria, Frederick Hough, noted that merging the UN Security Council's discussions on Syria seemed like a sensible measure. The diplomat said: "After all, the UN Security Council has been unable to do anything about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons or its operations involving the mass murder of civilians." If the permanent members of the UN Security Council systematically defend these practices, he suggested it would be impossible to act.
Hough reasoned that: "If merging Syria-related discussions gives Russian diplomats a break from the embarrassment and burden regarding the defence of something that defies any protection, then I am happy for them. If it enhances Moscow and Washington's ability to work together for a political transition in Syria, great. But I doubt it."