Syria: as conflict enters fifth year, UN-mediated peace talks resume in Geneva

Staffan de Mistura

Staffan de Mistura

Talks resumed on 14 March between representatives of the Government and those of the opposition in Syria, where the United Nations envoy overseeing the discussions said a “fragile” cessation of hostilities has been holding for 18 days.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva as the conflict enters its fifth year – “a sad anniversary” – the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the renewal of the intra-Syrian talks is “a moment of truth” and that the only available Plan B is a “return to war, and to an even worse war that we had so far”.

“We [the UN] are facilitating, mediating, pushing, stimulating. But the real peacemakers here are the peacemaking powers who wanted these talks, the ISSG, and the Security Council members, and hopefully the Syrian sides,” said Mr. de Mistura, referring to the acronym for the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), of which the UN is a member along with the Arab League, the European Union and 17 countries – including the United States and Russia – which have been seeking a path forward for several months.

The focus of the new talks is on matters of governance, including a new Constitution of Syria, and the holding of elections.

The agenda for the proximity talks is “set”, Mr. de Mistura said, and based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva Communiqué.

“The rule of the game will be ‘inclusiveness’,” the UN envoy noted, adding hope that the proximity negotiations will lead to direct negotiations.

Mr. de Mistura acknowledged that spoilers would try to derail the talks but that “the secret will be to be cold and determined”. He added that “public rhetoric will try to cast iron preconditions, but this is a moment of truth, and hopefully proactive chance.”

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