Deputy special envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy stressed that there is no military solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis and warned that the region and the world "can't afford for the conflict to keep going on any longer" during a lecture at the American University on Cairo on Sunday.
Ramzy warned that the current situation in Syria in unsustainable and that if peaceful solutions are not sought soon, "it will explode in our faces later down the road."
The deputy special envoy made the statements during a lecture called Reflections on the Syrian Crisis hosted by the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
To demonstrate the complexity of the situation, Ramzy said that the conflict is the greatest crisis that the UN has seen since the Second World War.
While 40 countries were involved in World War I and 102 were involved in World War II, not all of them participated in fighting itself, Ramzy explained.
Syria now has 81 nationalities fighting over its territories, either directly or via a proxy.
The special envoy said that he thinks that the problem started early when both the US and Russia began arming proxy forces.
"While the U.S. previously no interest in Syria, which wasn't on its National Security priority list under Obama, Russia was involved in the Syrian scene and decided to offer political and military aid while reserving the right to directly intervene militarily if necessary, which eventually happened in 2015."
Ramzy asserted the need to keep the political process alive, saying the UN should not abandon its role as mediator and driving force for a politics solution in Syria.
He asserted that the way for the suggested "constitutional committee" must be paved as soon as possible to allow Syrians to decide and design their future.
The special envoy asserted that a cessation of violence must be followed by the drafting of a new constitution, yet he admitted that that suggestion is fraught with problems as "the Syrian government says everything is fine and nothing has to be changed and the opposition says nothing can be changed before removing the government."
He stressed that the only solution to the conflict will be made at the negating table and through committment to the four principles: deescalating violence, new government, new constitution and fighting terrorism.
Ramzy warned that killing the political process would risk reviving ISIS and even allow for the creation of new ISIS-modeled organizations in its wake.
And while he said that ISIS holds only very small pockets of territory in Syria near Aleppo, the Golan Heights and the Iraqi border, he said it is "still dangerous."
He also warned that Syria risks non-mutally exclusive scenarios: First, that proxy war develops into a direct war between involved powers, and second, that some regions territorily separate from Syria.
Ezzeldin called on the international community to prevent these scenarios "as fast as possible."
He also expressed his optimism that Russian-American understanding is possible saying that "The US is no longer concerned only with the military dimension, they are back and willing to engage with the situation there, and while the situation now is horrible if we compare the scene in 2016 with the scene in 2017, I think that the situation has become more ready for an understanding between the parties involved as their priorities have changed."
"Syria is no longer the top priority of Saudi Arabia, and Iran is willing to work with Turkey and Russia in Astana to push the political process. Turkey's priorities have become focused on the Kurds, not Assad, so I think that an understanding now is not impossible," he explained.
The deputy special envoy pointed at the lack of an Arab role in the conflict, and said that "he doesn't see a solution for the crisis without an Arab party involved but that's for the Arab countries to decide."
He said that "the situation would have been much easier if the Arabs had had an understanding with Turkey and Iran."
Describing the Syrian crisis as a "tragic situation," he highlighted the deep humanitarian dimension of the conflict as "half a million have been killed, 7 million have been displaced and 5.5 million became refugees -- meaning that half of the Syrian population is away from their homes, a crisis that has never happened to any other nation."
On the Necessity of Talks with Syrian Government
Ramzy recognized criticism of the idea of talks with the Syrian government. Some observers say that talks "allowed the Syrian regime to continue its policies," he admitted.
But the deputy special envoy said he sees another solution.
"If you deal with the Syrian government you are damned if you do and damned if you don't," he said, adding that this was the only way to keep the aid convoys going to Syria in order to reach the besieged and those in conflict zones.
Ramzy noted that the UN as a great humanitarian role in Syria and it has provided medical aid for 13 million Syrians in conflict areas, and that that would not have been possible if the UN were not in contact with the Syrian government.
He stressed that the "horrendous tragedy we are seeing now would have been much worse if not for UN aid."
"I went to Damascus many times and I have sat with [the Syrian goverment] and heard from them and from other parties and this is the only way to keep the political process going and the aid reaching those who are in need for it."
He also demanded that those who participated in atrocities be brought to justice and that letting war criminals escape justice would be bad for the country's future.
The ambassador admitted that his job as a mediator is "against all odds," and that he must "try to find that silver lining."
Ramzy worked with the UN special envoy since 2014.
He also served as head of the mission of the League of Arab States to Austria and as a permanent observer to the United Nations in Vienna.
Ramzy is also the former Egyptian ambassador to Brazil and to Germany.