The international resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council to extend the mechanism for the cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria without the consent of Damascus, came after an American-Russian “deal” and secret negotiations that took place between the envoys of Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin after their summit in Geneva in mid-June.
However, despite American attempts to present the resolution as a “diplomatic victory”, the Russian president made fundamental breaches of the “red lines”, which have long been set by Washington and its allies. Here are ten notes on the new decision:
1- A “historic achievement”: The White House announced that Biden and Putin “praised” cooperation in issuing the resolution. A US official said that it was “better than we expected.” The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, welcomed this rarely recorded cooperation with Russia. “It's important that the United States and Russia were able to come together on a humanitarian initiative that serves the interests of the Syrian people,” she said after the vote.
For his part, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that the agreement was “historic.” He added: “We hope that this scenario will constitute a turning point from which not only Syria, but also the entire Middle East region and the entire world will benefit.”
2- “Political dialogue”: Washington and Moscow’s exaggeration in highlighting the decision, despite the great concessions made, reflects a desire to resume the political dialogue between them on Syria and other issues, and their willingness to accept the “Russian ceiling.”
If the US-Russian dialogue achieves some breakthroughs, it may revive the initiative of UN envoy Geir Pedersen for a “step for step” approach, which includes trade-offs between sanctions and aid, cease-fire, terrorism, and detainees.
3- “American concessions”: Since the Biden administration assumed office, senior US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have announced that they wanted to extend the mechanism that began with Resolution 2165 seven years ago, through the delivery of aid through three crossings, two of which are with Turkey, and a third with Iraq. But Washington cut down its demands to a single crossing with Turkey, which is Bab al-Hawa, provided that the text of the same resolution, which was drafted in 2014, continues to apply.
4- “The Battle of Interpretation”: Washington agreed to extend the work of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for one year, but Moscow insisted on only six months. The final wording of the resolution contained “constructive ambiguity.” It provided for the extension of the Security Council resolution on the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for six months, till Jan. 10, 2022, with an extension of an additional six months, till July 10, 2022, subject to the issuance of the UN secretary-general’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs.
US officials argue that the legal interpretation means that the extension is automatic, while the Russians say that it is subject to the Secretary-General’s report. Oxfam expressed the fear of an “ambiguous future” with an extension of only six months.
5- “Revising the decision”: The first decision was issued in 2014, that is, before the direct Russian military intervention at the end of 2015, and before the US intervention under the cover of the international coalition to fight ISIS in northeastern Syria, in the fall of 2014. However, the US negotiators agreed to review text of the resolution, deleting all the paragraphs that criticized the “Syrian authorities,” and accepting a new language that reflects the facts over the past seven years, although Damascus still considers the resolution a “violation of sovereignty.”
6- “Early recovery”: Washington accepted Moscow’s demands to introduce a new language in the resolution. Thus, the expression, “early recovery” was mentioned three times. Diplomats say that this is “a circumvention” of the conditions set by Western countries on refusing to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria “before tangible progress in the political process and the implementation of Resolution 2254,” according to the statement of the European Union Council.
7- “Conditions for Reconstruction”: In parallel with the secret dialogue with Russia in Geneva, Blinken’s team insisted on deleting two paragraphs from the final statement of the ministerial conference on Syria in Rome on June 28. Those pertaining to the rejection of “normalization” with Damascus and setting conditions for the contribution to reconstruction.
European countries had proposed a paragraph stating: “Only when progress occurs on the political track, will we consider providing assistance in the process of rebuilding Syria.” But the statement was issued without this condition.
On the other hand, the Russian-US deal “legitimized” the financing of the “recovery”, the humanitarian infrastructure and the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations, calling on “international humanitarian agencies and concerned parties to support them,” including organizations in Damascus.
8- “Governmental support”: The resolution expressed concern about the COVID-19 pandemic, which “represents a major challenge to the health system and the humanitarian situation in Syria.” It stressed the need for full and safe humanitarian access, without obstruction or delay, including to humanitarian workers, medical personnel, their equipment, transportation, and supplies, in order to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and vaccines against the COVID-19 to all parts of Syria without discrimination.
This text opens the door to expanding the aid, by an international decision, to the Syrian government, bearing in mind that the Biden administration had provided exceptions to the sanctions for medical, pharmaceutical, humanitarian reasons, and other matters related to confronting the epidemic.
9- “United Nations Principles”: The international resolution stipulated the need for all concerned parties to respect the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law and the United Nations core principles for humanitarian aid. This means bypassing a document prepared by the United Nations two years ago, the text of which was obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, which stressed that UN workers must commit to “accountability” and refrain from cooperating with “those involved in war crimes” in Syria.
The two-page document was prepared by the United Nations in New York and set strict standards for the work of UN institutions, including a text that stated: “Only when a comprehensive, serious and negotiated political transition occurs (between representatives of the government and the opposition), will the United Nations be ready to facilitate reconstruction.”
10- “Across the Lines”: Moscow wanted to pressure Western countries to work with the Syrian government to end “isolation” and encourage “normalization” regardless of the progress in implementing Resolution 2254. Thus, it stipulated the expansion of aid “across the lines” inside Syria.