By Tim Marshall.
It’s that time of year when international diplomacy is a blur of movement. The summer is over, the politicians and diplomats are back behind their desks, and the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is upon us.
This year there is the added urgency of the refugee crisis in the European and Middle East region. It’s going to be a hectic week.
There will be two meetings in Brussels this week to discuss the refugee crisis, the first at Interior Minister level on Tuesday, the second, on Thursday, with Heads of Government. The Germans will lead the way with a revisited plan in conjunction with several other players.
As the W&Y understand it the outlines of the plan are that, with border controls tightening, large camps will have to be built in Greece and Italy to house the refugees and migrants in order to cope with the inevitable bottleneck. This will cost huge sums of money and the EU will have to fund it to help Greece and Italy. Then an orderly registration process needs to be implemented. At the same time the EU countries would implement a distribution system with all 28 countries contributing.
Those countries currently rejecting a quota system will be re-assured they can negotiate on numbers and that the camps and registration will make this an orderly process. They will also be told that the check on who can come in will be tightened – this is specifically to prevent economic migrants, especially from Albanian and Kosovo from gaining entry.
Simultaneously more money and naval assets will be put into the plan to combat the people smugglers, especially at sea, extra funding for the existing camps in the Middle East may be available, and the EU will join the renewed push for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian war.
That’s the rough sketch of the plan – it will be certainly rough getting everyone to agree with it.
This brings us to UNGA.
The Russians have spent the summer putting together a diplomatic deal for Syria. They have also brought enough firepower into Syria to ensure that if the deal doesn’t work, they can shore up what would effectively be a Syrian Government/Allawite state-let from Damascus to Host the Mediterranean coast – but that is the back-up plan.
Moscow has set the scene and ensured the alarmed Americans called them to discuss what their two militaries are doing in Syria. A possible meeting between President Putin and Obama ‘in the margins’ at UNGA is being discussed.
The Russian plan appears to envisage that President Assad stays on for an unspecified period while a compromise government is put together leading to elections down the line. The Americans have already shifted significantly; at the weekend, John Kerry, speaking in London reversed a four year policy and accepted that Assad did not have to stand down immediately saying “It doesn’t have to be on day one or month one. There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”
However, behind the scenes the Obama administration, and many other players, are sceptical that a deal is possible given the scale of the fighting on the ground, and the positions of those doing the fighting.
Still, we are at summer’s end, at autumn’s beginning, and as surely as the leaves fall from the trees – this time of year has always seen new initiatives. Occasionally, they even work.