In an interview with the Guardian in London ahead of meetings with members of the UK Foreign Office, and amid reports of a renewed Russian assault on the rebel-held cities of Idlib and Homs, De Mistura said it was unlikely that the EU and World Bank would cover the huge cost of rebuilding Syria if a settlement were imposed entirely on Assad’s terms.
“Solely concentrating [on] a military victory will [lead to] a pyrrhic victory followed by a long-term, low intensity, but extremely painful guerrilla war, in which Syrians continue to die,” he said.
“You will create a space in which, within three months, there will be more people joining Islamic State. You will not win them over unless there is a political solution.”
De Mistura’s warnings will be seen as gentle diplomatic advice to the incoming Republican administration of Donald Trump that a policy towards Syria focused solely on the military destruction of Isis, likely in a de facto alliance with Russia and Assad, the Syrian president – as Trump has suggested – would fail to secure a lasting settlement.
De Mistura, one of the world’s most experienced diplomats, said: “Fighting terrorism is crucial, vital, urgent and important for everyone. That is what anyone in the street in Washington, Paris, London, Istanbul or Moscow would say.
“So the extent that Russia and the US have a common approach on how to accelerate the fight against Islamic State and al-Nusra is welcome. But fighting is one thing; winning is another. To defeat Islamic State, you have to have a political approach that also includes those that feel disenfranchised, the Sunnis.
“That is exactly what happened in Iraq. 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 same applies in Syria; unless you have an inclusive political process, within three months, there will be more people joining Islamic State.”
On the cost of reconstruction in Syria following an end to the fighting, he said: “It will cost a fortune to reconstruct Syria and no single country is capable of meeting the cost.
“It certainly won’t be Russia, the US or Iran. It will probably be the World Bank and the EU: for one thing, it would be cheaper for the EU than having to handle another wave of refugees, but the EU will not do it just because the war is over, but because the country has been stabilised through a credible political process.”
Denying that the peace process had collapsed, or at least was in abeyance pending Trump’s inauguration on 20 January, De Mistura said his plan to lift the siege of eastern Aleppo, announced last month, was still being discussed by regional powers and could prevent the total destruction and capitulation of the city, which he predicted would be “bloody, violent and create a humanitarian tragedy”.
The UN special envoy said he still wanted the 900 or so fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly linked to al-Qaida and known as al-Nusra Front, to leave Aleppo for another Syrian city. At the same time, the Syrian government would agree to recognise the current anti-Assad political administration in eastern Aleppo, led by Brita Haj Hassan, and leave it in power at least in the short term, in the process ending the air campaign.
Author: Patrick Wintour