Nabil El Araby, Secretary-General of the Arab League, and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, Prime Minister (PM) of Qatar and head of the League’s Syria committee, arrived in New York on 29 January, hoping to obtain support for the joint Western-Arab League draft resolution circulated on 27 January. The two are set to brief the Council on 31 January at 3 p.m. on the situation in Syria and the Arab League’s recently proposed initiative to resolve the crisis. The League has called on the Syrian President to immediately hand power over to his deputy in order to begin the process of a political transition, which would include negotiations with the opposition, the formation of a national unity government, and the holding of elections.
The recent deliberations of the new draft resolution circulated by Morocco and with the support of Western powers and Arab states have been marked by diplomatic clashes with Moscow. As noted in our 27 January post on preliminary discussions of the draft resolution, the Russian delegation was skeptical and “disappointed” with the document. Their skepticism continued on 30 January, with the BBC reporting that Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated that Russia would block the draft resolution from passing, which he said left open the “possibility for intervention in Syria.”
On 31 January, Gatilov tweeted that pushing the resolution forward was the “path to civil war” in the country The Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, echoed this position, but said that his delegation would continue to engage the draft resolution’s co-sponsors.
Following Council consultations on 27 January, Ambassador Churkin expressed his disappointment with draft resolution, stating it crossed Russia’s “red lines”, namely the inclusion of sanctions, an arms embargo, and the imposition of a political settlement by outside forces. However, Ambassador Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, dispelled the notion that any of these measures were included in the draft resolution at a media stakeout on 30 January:
We think that what is contained in this resolution is quite straight forward. There are no sanctions. There is no use of force, or threat of the use of force, as some have alleged. It is primarily a straightforward condemnation of what has transpired, a call upon the government of Syria to adhere to the commitments it made to Arab League and an endorsement of the Arab League plan, which we think is vitally important in the minimum that the Council should do.
Ambassador Rice confirmed in the stakeout that negotiations are continuing on the draft resolution at the Expert and Permanent Representative levels ahead of the briefing by the Arab League Secretary-General and Qatari Prime Minister.
Western nations have joined the Arab League Secretary-General and Qatari PM in lobbying for the draft resolution among Council Members. It appears that senior governmental officials from Western Council Members will attend the briefing on 31 January to lend their support for the Arab League initiative. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton confirmed her attendance, publicly calling on the Council to act on the situation in Syria. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also indicated he would attend the Council briefing, while the British government urged Russia not to block efforts to resolve the crisis. It was also reported that French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe will join his Western counterparts at the Council as well.
As a result of the lobbying, Agence France Press (AFP) has reported that the “balance within the Security Council has evolved”, with 10 of the 15 Council Members now supporting the draft resolution. With the necessary support in the Council, the Guardian reported that a vote could come on 1 or 2 February. Nine Members of the Council need to vote in favour of a resolution for it to pass, but a Russian or Chinese veto would effectively block Council action. Louis Charbonneau, UN reporter for Reuters, breaks down the possible scenarios of a vote occurring this week, stating that a Russian veto is “very possible”, and, according to U.N. envoys, “Veto-power China, as well as South Africa, India and Pakistan, also have reservations…[and] are expected to follow Russia’s lead when the text is put to a vote”.
Meanwhile, regional pressure was increased on the Assad regime to accept the Arab League initiative as well, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu issuing a statement on 29 January on behalf of Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to Reuters, Iran, a traditionally staunch Syrian ally, also called on the Assad regime to hold free and fair elections, and allow political parties to operate freely in the country.
The Arab League recently suspended its monitoring mission in Syria on 28 January amidst growing violence between the rebel Free Syrian Army and Syrian government security forces. According to AlertNet, the Syrian government called the move an effort to influence the UN Security Council’s deliberations and encourage intervention in the country. Meanwhile, a major government-led offensive with tanks and armoured vehicles has taken back the eastern suburbs of Damascus, which were previously controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army. The New York Times reported on 30 January that Russia had announced it convinced the Assad regime to hold informal negotiations with the opposition in Moscow, but France24 reported that the Syrian National Council (SNC) had not received such an invitation, and would decline to engage in mediation until Assad had stepped down.