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UN resolution on Syria could cover more than chemical weapons

Although the UN Security Council's new resolution on Syria does not extend to starting peace negotiations in the country, some say the chemical weapons decision could aid efforts to end the civil war.

Diplomats at the United Nations have reached a breakthrough deal on Syria. The 15 members of the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on how to handle and destroy Syrian chemical weapons. This resolution requires the Syrian government to provide unfettered access and to meet all the demands of the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The previously divided Security Council agreed on Friday (27.09.2013) that it would again take up the issue of dealing with Syria should the government refuse to cooperate with inspectors. A core point of discussion in the leadup: Friday's resolution now does not automatically authorize the use of force against Syria should Damascus renege on its agreement to work with inspectors.

But the resolution goes beyond the issue of chemical weapons, some observers commented, as it represents the first time Russia has not refused to consider the international community issuing a threat of force against Syria. Russia's change of tact will have been noticed in Damascus - and could move the Assad regime to embark on a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Moscow has, however, reserved the right to veto a UN-sponsored military strike should the issue be raised at a future Security Council session.

The warring parties no longer see a way out of conflict

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shake hands as they speak to the press at the Hotel Intercontinental on September 12, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. The leaders met to discuss chemical weapons in Syria in working towards assisting a U.N. Security Council resolution. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

The US and Russia had previously been at odds on how to deal with Syria for years

Resolutions are not enough to end wars, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for Security and International Affairs, told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. But, he added, there were growing signs that the Syrian factions were increasingly willing to negotiate an end to the civil war. The warring sides have realized that they were no longer able to acheive their goals through conflict, Perthes said.

"The UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council almost a year ago that the local forces alone cannot stop the conflict themselves because they are too caught up in the fighting. Because there is fear, there is hatred," Perthes said, adding that it had become the Council members' task to put an end to the war. "They have to tell their parties in Syria that a military solution is no longer in order and that they need to work on a political transition."

An interim government that represents all parties needs to be formed, Perthes said.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the largest umbrella organization of President Bashar al-Assad's opponents, has already signaled its willingness to talk. Its president, Ahmad al-Jarba, met last Wednesday (25.09.13) with Brahimi, who in addition to being the UN's special envoy was also chosen by the Arab League to mediate in Syria, to seek a political solution to the conflict.

An area controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen through a sniper's scope held for the photographer by a Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo's Al-Ezaa neighbourhood September 11, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Aref Hretani)

A resolution alone won't stop the civil war, but it could motivate parties to find a political solution

"The time has come to end the conflict started and overseen by Assad," al-Jarba said, adding that Syrians expected the United Nations to promote a political solution. "The Syrian coalition was always ready and willing to play a constructive role in resolving the conflict."

Risk of the disintegration of Syria

Perthes said the Syrian regime might be willing to agree to a political solution. It is increasingly clear to both sides that they will not achieve further significant military progress as the frontlines have been established and will only change slightly. If this de-facto division of the country continues "Syria will no longer exist in its current territorial form," Perthes said.

Meanwhile, the fighting continues on many fronts in Syria. Not only are government and opposition forces fighting each other, but there are conflicts among opposition factions. Competing jihadist groups, such as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the movement for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), are involved in fierce battles against each other. The Nusra Front has also pulled out of the National Coalition while the ISIS group had never recognized the opposition.

Difficult to calculate reactions of regional players

Given this complex situation, Syrian political scientist Barah Mikail of the Madrid-based think tank FRIDE said he hardly expects an imminent cease-fire. All parties, whether in government or opposition, are pursuing their own goals. "And all claim leadership of the country," he said. "They will keep fighting until they feel they have defeated their adversary."

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Venezuelan state television TeleSUR in Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on September 26, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters)

Moscow's shift in position could convince Assad to negotiate

But it's not just groups in Syria that are pushing their own interests. Regional players are also involved in a proxy war in the country. How Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the main sponsors of the Syrian opposition, will behave in the future is uncertain - as is the direction Assad's main ally, Iran, will take.

Despite the UN Security Council's resolution, there is no guarantee that negotiations will follow - or even that weapons inspectors will be safe, Mikail warned.

"The resolution toward peace in Syria does not mean that it will be respected or followed by all the actors on the ground in Syria," he said.

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