“Step for Step” Approach: Will Pedersen Bring About the Syrian Solution Miracle?

To the beat of ‘step for step’, the Syrian scene seems to be dramatically accelerating; so much so that we can hardly keep up. It is as though the situation is ripe to turn over the page of more than twelve years of Syrian suffering in favor of a regime which has brutalized its people and forced them into diaspora across the globe. So what is going on and what has changed for things to be so different? Neither has the Syrian regime changed; nor have negotiations taken place nor has consensus been reached!!

The UN rhetoric used to be strong, clear and explicit: no concessions for the Syrian regime unless there are drastic changes in line with the UN resolution 2254. With the stalemate in the Syrian file and the suspension of constitutional committee meetings, it seemed that the UN envoy Pedersen was dealing his final cards. Since his visit to the Syrian capital in December last year, he digressed from his usual course declaring there was a chance to relaunch the political track. He said that during his talks with Arab, Americans and Europeans, he had recognized some potential for their countries to open up to the regime and suggested that it would be possible to apply the ‘step for step’ approach in order to build trust.

Obviously, the Russian-Ukrainian war has enormously changed the setting in the region transforming the Syrian file from an international to a regional file mainly handled by regional states. This became even clearer with the increase of Israeli attacks in Syria in addition to China-sponsored Saudi-Iranian agreements and the major political and economic changes which Saudi Arabia has been introducing which necessitate more stability in the region and solutions to the stagnant situations in Yemen and Syria. The major importance of the issues of Syrian refugees and captagon both of which have created much pressure on the countries of the region as a whole and the European Union is not to be disregarded either. The issue of refugees is becoming more complicated be it in Turkey where there is a rise of racism towards refugees which was accentuated by the devastating earthquake which hit northern Syria and southern Turkey let alone the fact that Turkey is about to start presidential elections in which refugees are used as a bargaining chip. Or in Lebanon where there is a rise of racism and pressure to return Syrian refugees to their country especially with the collapse of economic structures there and the decline of living and security conditions in addition to decreased international interest in stabilization mechanisms there and the flow of aid linked to the presence of refugees or that assigned for factions in Lebanon.

Hence, the ‘step for step’ approach came along. Although it was proposed earlier, it did not receive enough attention until Pedersen reinvigorated it now that the international and regional setting has become riper than ever to accept such approaches especially that Pedersen has been unable to make any progress in the Syrian file at the level of the constitutional committee on which much effort, funds and expectations were hinged.

We have seen many steps so far including giving the humanitarian situation precedence over the political conditions such as alleviating sanctions on the regime’s actions especially after the earthquake which came after two years of pressure by the Corona virus pandemic and replacing early recovery mechanisms with reconstruction which means reconstructing destroyed civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and water and sanitation networks. We were supposed in return to see steps by the regime which has welcomed the opening of otherwise shut doors. For example, the regime was expected to release political detainees and provide for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and the unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid to those who deserve it and engage in the political solution track. None of which the regime did or we observed.

In the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, we reiterate that the steps made by the Syrian regime are of no real value and are merely nominal.

Unfortunately, the reality is getting much worse. The regime, on the one hand, is persistent in its position against its own people and does not seem to be ready to make any compromises internally. On the other hand, it seems willing to make any compromises to other states as long as this serves its survival and earns it some legitimacy. In doing so, the regime relies on the power it has from Iranian and Russian backing in addition to the change of political atmosphere in the region in favor of destabilization and putting an end to the war which has affected the region as a whole. Furthermore, the European Union has been busy with the Ukraine war and its own economic crises including inflation, decline in living standards and popular and workers protests. The USA is also busy with other files, most importantly the Ukrainian war, the military-economic power struggle with China and attempting to regain its status as a body guard for the world in general and Europe in particular.

Does all this mean that a solution along the lines of the failed Taif Agreement in Lebanon but in some other form would come about? Would there be any point contacting states and their delegations given all those special and more important concerns they are busy with?

More importantly, do Syrian men and women have enough power to determine their future? The opposition is not strong enough to muster enough leverage after it has been so visibly abandoned although its persistence continues to be necessary in case of a potential return to the negotiation table.

Syria is going through very critical times; everything is at stake: the sacrifices and pains Syrian men and woman suffered for a better future for themselves and their children, the unity of Syrian territory, the deteriorating humanitarian situation which affects all Syrian men and women inside Syria equally, the refugees who are being used as bargaining chips and political extortion tools and who are concerned about a potential forced return which may cost them their lives.

In the Syrian Women’s Political Movement we reiterate our position in support of the implementation of all steps taken by concerned parties in the Syrian crisis so long as they are in line with the international resolution 2254 rather than outside its framework. We further refuse any initiative for a solution based on bilateral agreements between any state and the Syrian regime outside the UN framework in addition to refusing the use of humanitarian files as leverage. We call for a just solution that would put an end to the Syrian crisis and guarantee the rights of all Syrian men and women under UN sponsorship which leads to the implementation of UN resolution 2254. 

All this only makes us reflect on the tools we have and how we can make use of them to confront the worst and the unknown.


The Political Committee of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement