23 March 2016
SdeM: I am delighted to be able to be together with the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, who has been asked by me, and I am very grateful to you, for being here on a special day. Not only because it is an occasion for all of us at the UN to, through you, express our strong solidarity to the city where you are, to the country where you are, and to Europe that you represent so well, because what happened yesterday in Brussels. You came as soon as I asked you to come, and I am grateful.
Second, it is not a coincidence that today is the evening before the closing of this Intra-Syrian Talks, and I did ask Federica Mogherini to come and sound, on my behalf too, some of the interlocutors, because they need to feel how much Europe is committed in expecting them to be committed. So I am double grateful, thank you. The floor is yours.
FM: Thank you very much Staffan. It is a pleasure for me to be here in the UN, with you, on a day that is clearly special for Europe. I was this morning in Brussels meeting with the Prime Minister of Belgium, the Prime Minister of France, with all my colleagues in the European Commission, not only to commemorate and honor the victims who died yesterday, but also to look at our response.
And part of our response, the external part of our response, is for sure the work that you are doing together with the rest of the international community with the support of the UN Security Council and with the full support of Europe. So I was particularly honored and grateful for the call that you gave me in working more and more together to try and consolidate and accelerate the process for bringing peace in Syria.
I immediately thought this was an excellent idea because I was yesterday in Amman, the day before in Jordan, including Al Beqaa valley meeting so many Syrians, children, grand parents, women and men. And all of them were telling me the same thing: “We want to go back home. When are we going to be able to go back home?” Even the small children at school asked me: “How are talks going in Geneva?” And I said they are in good hands, proceeding, but still the way is long.
When the news of the attacks in Brussels came, my first thoughts were that the responsibility we are all having, and Staffan on behalf of all of us is having, for bringing peace to Syria, is first and foremost for the Syrian people, it is for the region, but it is also for the European region, as you said, because the threat coming to Europe and elsewhere in the region and elsewhere in the world has a clear connection also with the spread of Daesh in Syria. And if we want to tackle this threat, this existential threat, in an effective way, we have to do something internally in the European Union – this is not the place, and I am not the person to address this – but also to accelerate and consolidate our common work, in terms of our common work of the international community, to put an end to the war in Syria and to concentrate and join forces against Daesh in an effective way.
That is why I discussed this with John Kerry yesterday evening, on the eve of his trip to Moscow today. And I met today first of all with Staffan to understand in which ways the European Union can fully support and, in an effective way, support his efforts and passed messages that we all share to the delegations present – that we expect them to engage in the process on three key elements that were agreed by all of us, in the International Support Group, and that are the backbone of our common position, endorsed by the UN Security Council resolution.
First, the consolidation and expansion of the cessation of hostilities.
Second, the consolidation and expansion of the humanitarian access to the areas that are still to be reached.
And third, and I would say extremely important, to enter into the political process, without delays, without games, with the spirit of reaching a solution.
Negotiations are in the hands of Staffan, but I felt that I had to respond to his call and pass the message that it is important, not only for the Syrians but for the Europeans that this process starts, works and delivers. For the sake of the Syrians, for the sake of the region, for the sake of Europeans, for the sake of international community.
I would like to thank very much Staffan for his work, for the excellent cooperation we have and for all that we will be able to do during the coming weeks. I say weeks hopefully, Inshallah, not months or years, to address this issue that, as we said and as we know, is one of the most crucial issues of our times.
SdeM: I just wanted to qualify one point. Tomorrow you will have the opportunity to ask questions about where we are on the negotiations. I am not saying, so that we can concentrate on the opportunity of having with us the EU representative.
Secondly, the message I heard today from the delegations I met, the HNC and the Government, were both focusing on what happened yesterday, and you must have heard it from Ambassador Jaafari, the focus on terrorism. Well, the message that Federica and I are giving, and certainly you had a lot in giving it today, is true the terrorism is, and what we mean by terrorism is Daesh and Al-Nusra, a priority. But the priority of the priorities is to win the terrorism you have to find a political solution in Syria. So, it all goes back to those who have been complaining about terrorism, saying: what about all of you helping us to solve politically the crisis in Syria? And you will see suddenly that we will all be able to focus on Daesh, and by doing so, helping both Syria and Europe. Therefore, your message today was very helpful, to bring it back to the mother of all issues, which is trying to find a political transition in Syria, and urgently because yesterday we were reminded that it was urgent.
So I thank you, and questions are open, but only on Syria and only on this occasion and not on negotiations, because we will be talking about it tomorrow.
Q. Ms. Mogherini, as you met the delegations, what were the main messages that the delegations gave to you? What can you tell us? Apparently one of the main issues that the Government delegation talked to you about was the European sanctions. Could you confirm this? Or say what do you think are the possibilities to lift the sanctions on Syria?
FM: No, not at all, this issue was not discussed. Our talks were only focused on the support to the UN-led process, so on the negotiations. And then Staffan underlined, rightly so, my main message, especially in meeting with that delegation, is the need to start a political transition in Damascus, because this is in our opinion, the only way to effectively create the conditions in the country, first of all to find peace and security for all Syrian with an inclusive approach, and second to defeat Daesh. So the de-link between the fight against terrorism on one side and the political process on the other, in our view has no ground. We have to do the two things and one thing reinforces the other. This was my main message. Obviously not all exchanges were consensual – we didn’t expect that to be the case at all – but I thought it was important to bring the message, especially the European Union consolidated position, that we expect, as I said, the political process and the transition to start. There is the unique opportunity of the international community uniting on this for the first time. There is no excuse.
Q. Ms. Mogherini, and Mr. de Mistura might like to add something to my question. Today, as we read the last one-hour-and-a-half there was a meeting between you and the head of the Syrian government delegation Ambassador Jaafari. This, as I understand is a big change, so did Mr. de Mistura from his talk with you, gave you the impression that it is time that the regime could make the first step in the track of the political transition?
SdeM: You see, I asked Federica Mogherini to send a strong message to those who are participating in these talks. So the message that she gave on behalf of Europe was: take seriously these talks. And to whom? To whomever is present here talking to me. So extrapolating beyond that new policies or new positioning would be going far. She did what I kindly asked her to do: to send a message to those who are talking to us these days, and this happens to be both Ambassador Jaafari and the HNC.
FM: And just to complement… obviously there is no change in the European Union position regarding the Syrian regime, as there is no change in the European Union position regarding these talks and this process. We have stated right from the very beginning that the European Union will actively support the work of Staffan and of the UN. Not just participate in the International Support group actively but also participate, with a key role, in the taskforces, both of them, and in particular the humanitarian one, this taskforce where we have an excellent and very fruitful cooperation, especially with the UN, on delivering the aid. But also in supporting the diplomatic work and the political work of negotiations, supporting the UN work.
And this is exactly what I have been trying to do today, following up a clear indication of the European Union member states, repeatedly stated in many Council conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council. We had many times the chance to discuss this with Staffan, in Brussels and even in New York. We always have intended our role in this way. Not only passive, accompanying role of the process that is led by the UN, but an active involvement in the humanitarian and the political work that Staffan is, in such a determined way, doing.
And when the UN needs the European Union to pass strong messages, it is not only a duty, but also a responsibility and an interest of the European Union to be present, to do what needs to be done, keeping the clarity of our positions, but making them heard also to the ones that have to hear them in the clearest possible way.
Q: I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying. After the deadly attacks in the capital of Europe yesterday, are you telling us that you did not discuss any help that the Syrian regime can possibly bring to the fight against terrorism and that it was simply about the political process? And if I can also add a question about the migrants, which you discussed, and the refugees: the UNHCR and other aid agencies have barked at the EU-Turkey deal in terms of returning people. Can you please make a comment about that?
FM: No, we will not comment on that as we agreed with Staffan that we stick to the topic of our work today. And as I said already, I will restate it: the only issue that we discussed today with the Syrian delegations is only the political process, the negotiations, the support that European Union is giving to this process at this critical moment, and the expectations of the European Union that the parties engage seriously in this process and delivering on it.
Q. I have a question for Mr. de Mistura about the consolidated effort against terrorism. What military consolidation do you see, especially we’ve got Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavror meeting tomorrow. Do you expect them to bring some joint forces and have a wider coalition? Are we talking specifically about something like that? And Ms. Mogherini, I haven’t heard you say the word al-Assad must go. Could you just say that if this is still your policy?
SdeM. Let me address the first one. We are all very interested, and in fact we have been in touch with John Kerry and Sergy Lavrov about the high level of expectations that we all have about this important, timelyand not coincidental meeting in Moscow. And I am sure that what happened in Brussels and what happened in Istanbul, which can happen anywhere else, is going to be a clear reminder about the urgency of finding a solution in Syria. Because I think the two countries are very clearly identifying a common interest in trying to address the issue of terrorism by finding a solution in Syria. From that point of view I am convinced that they will be addressing that aspect. Now the details of whether and what, we will see later.
FM: When I say that the European Union sticks to the common position it has and it shares with the rest of the international community, of the need to have a political transition in Damascus, I think I am clear enough.
Q. A follow up question to the High Representative… you are making it clear this is not a change in policy, yet in five years you have been strongly supportive to the opposition. Why did you decide to choose this moment to reward the Assad regime with such a high-profile meeting?
FM: Let me restate it and stress it very clearly: our support to the opposition has not only been in place for the last five years, but is going to be there for the future, and this is something we discussed with the delegation of the opposition, even today.
There is a clear support given to them, in many forms, and a clear support to them in view of engaging in the negotiations, in view of delivering on the processes. And we have done this consistently over the last months; it was probably the fourth or fifth time I was meeting with that delegation in the last few months – for sure couple of months – so this has not changed also. So it is not only that there is no change in policy, but there is also no change in relations we have. What I have done today is fully consistent with what we decided together as the European Union – to actively support the work of the United Nations and in particular of Staffan de Mistura in bringing the negotiations forward, not only in the humanitarian field but also in diplomatic and political talks.
If there is a need to pass a message, a message that all the Europeans today feel strongly about, which is: this situation in Syria has to stop. I have the responsibility as the High Representative of the European Union to bring this message not to the representatives of one or the other sides, but to the parties engaged with Staffan de Mistura in the UN-led process as such.