Are Antonio Guterres and Hillary Clinton on course for a clash over Syria in early 2017? The question may seem premature. Guterres was only confirmed as the next United Nations secretary-general last week and will take up the post at the beginning of January. Clinton is still campaigning hard to be U.S. president.
If, as now seems likely, she wins November’s election, Clinton and Guterres will face a common dilemma over what to do about Syria from the start of next year. The Russian-backed assault by Syrian forces on Aleppo has left both the Obama administration and the U.N. on the ropes. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N.’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, are making desperate efforts to keep international diplomacy over the conflict alive.
De Mistura has even offered to escort Islamist fighters out of Aleppo personally if Moscow will rein in the offensive. But there is a high chance that the military operations will continue through the end of this year, making substantive negotiations over the war impossible. While Kerry met his Russian and Iranian counterparts along with Arab foreign ministers and de Mistura in Lausanne this weekend, their discussions only generated some unclear “ideas” for new approaches. The U.S. and U.N. deserve some credit for persevering with diplomacy against the odds, but their efforts no longer carry much credibility.