U.N. envoy urges Trump to back Syria 'devolution' to beat IS

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 15, 2016 7:09 AM

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Syria envoy said on Tuesday that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was right to seek to work with Russia to beat Islamic State in Syria, but he urged Trump to help push for political reforms to stop the militant group gaining recruits.

Speaking on the BBC's Hardtalk program, Staffan de Mistura said it was crucial to fight IS, also known as Daesh, but that a long-term victory required "a completely new approach" to a political solution.

"In other words, some type of political devolution in Syria. Otherwise many other people, unhappy in Syria, may join Daesh while they are fighting Daesh," he said.

De Mistura presided over a fitful Syrian peace process in the first half of this year, but it finally stalled because cooperation collapsed between its two chief backers, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia has maintained strong support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom it regards as a bulwark against "terrorists". The United States has said Assad must leave power under any political transition.

Although the U.N. Security Council has mandated a political transition process, Assad's government has refused to consider any formula that might involve a dilution of his power.

Many of Trump's opponents fear that his stated intention to work more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin means the United States will withdraw support for Syrian opposition groups and agree to Assad's staying in power.

De Mistura said Assad and his team were probably "feeling comfortable" at the moment, but they should be aware that Russia had no interest in "inheriting" a broken Syria with constant guerrilla warfare for years ahead.

"By the way, President Putin himself has told me ... that he has told President Assad twice: ‘Listen, we are helping you, but there is a moment when we will be expecting you to actually apply a political devolution’," de Mistura said.

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In a separate interview with the British newspaper the Guardian, he drew a parallel with Syria's neighbor Iraq and said the political approach needed to include "those that feel disenfranchised, the Sunnis".

"Unless you address the disenfranchisement of Sunni tribes, you will have an open space for people like the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi."

The European Union was working on a plan to rebuild Syria, conditional on political devolution, probably with help from the World Bank, de Mistura said, but the exact meaning of devolution needed to be discussed by the Russians and Americans.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Larry King)