The International Syria Support Group met in New York this past week. That's a collection of countries that have high stakes in the war in Syria. It includes the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as members of the Arab League and the European Union.
Notably absent was any representative from Syria. It’s the third time this group has gotten together. Over the course of the first two meetings its members agreed on a road map to peace in Syria, which they hope will stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe and reduce the threat posed by the Islamic State.
The road map has Syria holding elections, overseen by the United Nations, in 18 months. That sounds ambitious. But the road map also includes a ceasefire by January, which is a couple weeks away. That seems nearly impossible at this point.
The goal of this week's meeting was to produce a UN Security Council resolution that supports the road map and the work of the International Syria Support Group. But there are still a bunch of issues that members can’t agree on, particularly Russia and the United States.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this week the United States would no longer seek the immediate removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That was a major concession to the Russians. But the question remains whether or not Assad will be allowed to run in these imagined elections a year and a half from now. There is also the issue of whether or not to recognize the Syrian opposition politically.
The UN refugee agency has released a report that details the state of the refugee situation around the world. In short, it’s worse than ever.
The report looks at mid-year trends. It says that if those trends continue through to the end of 2015, the number of those forcibly displaced will exceed 60 million for the first time in history. Most of these refugees are coming from Syria. They are fleeing one of the most brutal civil wars of a generation. Half of Syria’s population has either been driven from their homes or killed. While most of the devastation has come at the hands of Assad’s military, there are also some 60 different countries in a coalition that is bombing targets all over the country. In a separate report, the UN children's organization UNICEF says that some 16 million kids were born in conflict zones this year. That’s an eighth of all babies born. That can’t be good for the world.