UN envoy proposes new international forum for Syria

United Nations envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is proposing that major powers create a common international forum to move the war-battered country toward peace (AFP Photo/Mladen ANTONOV)
The new United Nations envoy for Syria proposed Thursday that major powers create a common international forum to move the war-battered country toward peace.
Geir Pedersen, who took up his post in January, made the proposal during his first appearance before the UN Security Council, which remains deeply divided over the way forward in Syria.
"There is a shared sense that battlefield developments might be winding down," Pedersen told the council. "Nevertheless, the conflict is far from over."
"If we are to see how issues can be unblocked and how to help the parties move in a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process, a common forum where key states engage seriously on those issues may be needed," he said.
Russia, a veto-wielding council power whose backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been a decisive factor in the war, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts through the Astana group with Iran and Turkey.
UN diplomacy on Syria has been largely sidelined by the Astana group, while the United States has shifted its attention away from the Syria conflict.
President Donald Trump has announced that he is pulling out the bulk of US forces sent to battle Islamic State jihadists.
Pedersen noted that five international armies operate across Syria\’s land and air space, creating daily risks for escalation and pledged to focus on improving international dialogue and cooperation.
Addressing the council, Russia appeared to welcome the proposal, even if it questioned the West\’s motives in Syria.
"We are open to cooperation with all interested parties that want sincerely — and I underscore that word sincerely — to facilitate stabilization and progress on a political settlement in Syria," said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
Pedersen, a Norwegian diplomat who took over the Syria file from Swedish-Italian envoy Staffan de Mistura, has traveled to Damascus for talks and worked hard to establish good relations over the past few weeks.
The envoy said a much-discussed constitutional committee to pave the way to elections in Syria should be convened as soon as possible, although disputes continue over lists of participants.
"I am conscious of the need to end this conflict for the sake of Syria, the region and the world," Pedersen told the council. "I know you all understand the scale and the difficulty of my task."
The war in Syria will enter its ninth year in March, with more than 360,000 people dead and half of the country\’s pre-war population displaced.
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