[Published 3 November 2015]
An international conference in Vienna on 30 October — attended by all five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — America, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom - has made an important breakthrough towards defeating the Islamic State and ending the conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Together with Egypt, the EU, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Nations — the Permanent Members reached a mutual understanding that
“Da’esh (Islamic State), and other terrorist groups, as designated by the U.N. Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants, must be defeated."
This is the first time the five Permanent Members have reached such a consensus — acknowledging that prior measures not involving the use of armed force under Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178 have failed to defeat the Islamic State and other designated terrorist groups — a prerequisite before there can be any hope of restoring stability and reaching lasting political solutions in Syria and Iraq.
International co-operation to defeat the Islamic State through a Security Council Resolution authorising the use of armed force had previously risked being vetoed by either Russia or America in the face of earlier American objections against co-operating with any armed force which included President Assad’s troops.
Russia’s Foreign Minister — Sergei Lavrov - had declared as recently as 29 September.
“We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurds militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”
However speaking at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State — John Kerry - after the historic Vienna meeting - Lavrov made an important concession to America’s stance of non-co-operation with Assad - opening the way for the passage of a Security Council Resolution authorising the use of armed force under article 42 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter:
“Russia is committed to fighting terrorism based on the solid basis of international law, whether we’re talking about the military interventions from air or the ground operations. These need to be conducted in agreement with the [Assad] government or with the UN Security Council.”
Lavrov signalled an early end to the current separate American-led coalition and Russian-Iranian interventions in Syria aimed at defeating Islamic State:
“I believe that neither the U.S. nor Russia want to go back to the so-called proxy war, but the fact that this situation makes the cooperation between the militaries ever more important is very apparent to me. We have a common enemy and we need to make sure that this enemy does not come to power in Syria or in any other country.”
Agreement by the five Permanent Security Council Members calling for armed action by air, sea and land forces against Islamic State and other designated terrorist groups has now become a distinct possibility — meeting President Obama’s preferred position as expressed by him on 6 September 2013:
“And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedents of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution. I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.”The Vienna participants reconvene within the next ten days to continue their crucial discussions.
Hopefully they will agree on pursuing the long-awaited and elusive Security Council Resolution authorising armed action - with the long-suffering Syrian people being its ultimate beneficiaries after five horrific years of war, 250000 deaths and millions being internally displaced and externally dispersed.