It will have two main objectives. On the one side, taking stock of the implementation of commitments of the donor community at the London conference, on which the EU has delivered in full. But most of all it will be a political conference, hoping that could be the moment for the international community together to turn the page and start the political transition, the reconciliation process and the reconstruction of Syria”. With these words, the High Representative Federica Mogherini, announced the Conference on Syria held on 5 April, which gathered the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other delegations in Brussels.

The meeting was held just the day after the airstrike that caused dozens of deaths with chemical weapons in Syria, which triggered the anger and the indignation of the world leaders. A Syrian military source denied that Damascus armed forces are responsible for the alleged chemical attack in north-western Syria. However, France and Britain have announced plans to convene the Security Council of the United Nations, the High Representative gives responsibility to the Assad regime, and Italy wants to play a primary role in condemning the use of weapons of mass destruction against the Syrian people. According to the National Observatory for Human Rights (Ondus) at least 86 people, including 30 minors, were killed in an airstrike that took place in Syria on suspicion of gas use. The attack took place in Khan Sheikhun, in the north-western province of Idlib, that is now in the hands of insurgents and al-Qaeda organization Fatah al-Sham (ex Nusra Front). According to activists’ sources, a few minutes after this heinous act, a field hospital, where the victims of the attack were treated, was struck in another raid.

The Conference objectives

In such a climate of high tension, the Conference on Syria in Brussels was opened. As already mentioned, the previous meeting was held in London on 4 February 2016, during which Member States had pledged more than 3 billion Euros to assist Syrian people in Syria, and refugees in neighbouring countries. With this commitment the EU has tripled the support offered during the previous donors’ conference on 31 March 2015 in Kuwait. In addition, at the London Conference the EU had expressed its intention to substantially increase its support, particularly to Lebanon and Jordan, two countries that have received the largest number of refugees in relation to its population. However, the EU wants to make a further effort.

On 5 April, the European Union, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, United Kingdom and the United Nations presided over the Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria. They gathered 70 delegations, major donors, civil society, humanitarian and development organizations.

The EU wanted to offer a clear answer to the Syrian people: peace can be built in their country. This is the reason why the EU could be able to rebuild a country in freedom, democracy, in full respect for human life and rights.

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According to the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, the first objective of the Conference was to support the Syrians both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, protecting the most vulnerable people. The second one was to support the region affected by the migration crisis. This is also the reason why the Conference was attended by the Prime Minister of Jordan, Hani Al-Mulki, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Al-Hariri, but also representatives of countries such as Iraq and Egypt that are hosting the greatest number of Syrians. The third objective was to make the peace process possible, even under UN auspices.

The results of the Conference

The aim of the Conference was the stability, and all the delegations expressed their priorities, considering the events of 3Avril.

Firstly, the international community showed its commitment to work together in order to support a peaceful future for Syria and to allow all Syrians to live in a sovereign, independent, and unitary country, offering peace and security. The EU, together with other partners, is committed to working for a sustainable and inclusive peace process addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Syria and supporting neighbouring countries which until now are hosting more than five million of refugees. In this regard, during the Conference, the need of further humanitarian help for vulnerable people naturally emerged, especially referring to women and children. This is why they decided to respond to this humanitarian crisis: the UN needs $ 8.1 billion to be able to support intervention programs.

Secondly, the excellent work of the Special Envoy of the United Nations in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and the importance of the Geneva Agreements were underlined. It was also stressed the role of civil society, including women’s organizations, recognized as a fundamental part of a long-lasting solution. More attention has been given to the importance of achieving full compliance with the ceasefire agreed at the meeting in Astana, encouraging Russia, Turkey and Iran to guarantee it.

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In January 2017, in Astana (the capital city of Kazakhstan), Russia, Turkey and Iran signed an agreement for the creation of a joint mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire in Syria. In the Joint Declaration, read by Kazakh Foreign Minister, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the aformentioned countries undertook to use their « influence » to strengthen the ceasefire. Also, they confirmed that the conflict in Syria should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the UN Security Council, claiming to respect « the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity » of Syria. The three countries stated to be ready to fight together against the terrorist groups in Syria such as Isis and the Front Fatah al Sham (formerly the Nusra Front).

The third theme of the conference was the important role played by neighbouring countries: Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In fact, the EU agreed programs that define the reciprocal commitments between Lebanon and Jordan and the international community. These countries, according to the High Representative, need a support because, without any aid, there is the risk of expanding the footprint of the Islamic State.

Finally, during the meeting it was stressed the importance of the post-conflict reconstruction and international support for its implementation. Although the aftermath of the attack which caused many victims, the EU and its partners believe possible a reconstruction, but at the same time the dramatic nature of the situation due to the regime was underlined.

The stop of Moscow to the UN Security Council

If on one hand the Brussels Conference laid the foundations for an optimistic view of the future, on the other it seems that the Security Council of the United Nations is paralyzed. Moscow has rejected the resolution presented by France, the United Kingdom and the United States. According to Moscow, the US has introduced a resolution based on false reports. Kremlin spokesman also informed that Russia will continue to support the army of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The UN Council resolution drafted by the US, France and Britain, condemned the chemical attack in Idlib. According to the document, Syrian President Bashar al Assad should “fully cooperate with the investigation mechanism and with the UN and the OPAC. It must provide the data of military flights the day of the attack, the names of the individuals in charge of teams and helicopters, and access to air bases from where chemical weapons are supposed to be launched”. But Russia does not agree.

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According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the draft resolution was based on fake news and reports. The Kremlin believes that the massacre of innocent people caused by nerve gases can be explained in a very different way, which obviously exonerates Bashar al-Assad and his Muscovite allies: the bombs accidently hit a rebels’ weapons cache, which contained the deadly prohibited substances. In short, the rebels would put in circulation a false version of the events to their advantage.

Whatever the truth, the “unacceptable draft” proposed by France, the United Kingdom and the US (and in fact approved by China) contains a different story. It condemns indeed the attack in Khan Sheikun and demands a thorough investigation to identify its perpetrators. In Washington, no one believes the widespread version of the Kremlin, and everyone continues to believe that the Assad government should respond for the nerve gases strike.

Maria Elena Argano

For further information

Sito dell’EEAS: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/24245/remarks-high-representative-vice-president-federica-mogherini-joint-press-conference-brussels_en

Sito del Consiglio europeo : http://www.consilium.europa.eu/it/press/press-releases/2016/02/04-eu-pledge-for-syrians/

Sito dell’EEAS: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_fr/18919/Mme%20Mogherini%20va%20organiser%20une%20conf%C3%A9rence%20sur%20la%20Syrie%20%C3%A0%20Bruxelles

Sito dell’EEAS : https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/24204/opening-statement-federica-mogherini-brussels-conference-supporting-future-syria-and-region_en

Sito del Consiglio europeo: http://video.consilium.europa.eu/en/webcast/3bc466a4-f438-46c3-8efb-7e17bc711c9d

http://www.ilgiornale.it/news/politica/siria-gas-aria-crisi-scontro-russia-e-usa-1383055.html

http://www.france24.com/fr/20170124-syrie-conference-astana-controle-treve-rebelles-regime-assad-reserves-geneve

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/04/05-syria-conference-co-chairs-declaration/