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Transcript of press conference by Joint Special Representative for Syria (JSRS) Lakhdar Brahimi at the Palais des Nations, 25 January

25 January 2014

Transcript of press conference
by Joint Special Representative for Syria (JSRS) Lakhdar Brahimi
Geneva, 25 January 2014

(Near verbatim transcript.)

JSRS: Good evening ladies and gentleman. Thank you very much for coming again. What I have to report is that we had two sessions today, in the same room, with the two delegations.

I think in the morning we met from just 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. or something, but this afternoon we met from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. We haven’t achieved much but we are continuing. The two delegations are here.

As you know, Mr. Jarba did not attend because in their understanding of how they are organized, he is the President of the Delegation, and they have Mr. Hadi Albahra as the Chief Negotiator.

On the other side the delegation was led by Ambassador Ja’afari, who is their PR [Permanent Representative] in New York. But the Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, was in the building and I had some discussions with him as well.

We have discussed in the morning -what I have done was really run them through a little bit what I hoped we would be doing over the days and maybe weeks that we are going to be together if everything goes well. And this afternoon we started to speak about humanitarian affairs, and we discussed at some length the situation in Homs, in the old city of Homs.

This issue has been discussed by the country team of the United Nations in Damascus with the Governor of Homs, and normally, tomorrow, the Governor is going to meet with his security advisor and so on. And we hope that ultimately some, a convoy of aid, goods, both food and non-food items and some medical supplies, will be allowed to go into the old city.

Tomorrow morning we will discuss the issue of prisoners, people that have been kidnapped, and see if something can be done to secure the freedom of those, not all, but at least some of the people who are deprived of their freedom.

Yes, I think that will be enough for an introduction. I will answer just three or four questions if you like.

Q: There has been shelling of Homs today, there has been shelling of many cities, there have been barrel bombs dropped on many cities, just in the last few days, since these talks started. I wondered if you wanted to comment on that. Do you regard barrel bombs as a crime against humanity? These are indiscriminate weapons as you very well know. Have you asked the Government of Syria to stop using these? I mean, has this come up in the discussions at all? Thank you.

JSRS : No it hasn’t come up in the discussion but it is extremely unfortunate that these barrel bombs, I think it is considered as forbidden weapons internationally, under humanitarian law. And it is very unfortunate that the fighting continues, that the shelling continues, but we haven’t discussed it today.

Q : I will ask my question in Arabic if you don’t mind. (unofficial translation from Arabic) We heard from some of the representatives of the Coalition who came out to speak to journalists that there are time tables in these negotiations that you are holding indirectly until now between the two sides, time tables to discuss. They said that on Monday you will start to discuss the issue of the transitional governmental authority, while the other party, the official legitimate Syrian Government, denied these time tables and said there were no time tables and that the priority was to fight terrorists and to secure humanitarian corridors and secure the humanitarian issue. Even on the humanitarian issue, are there certain conditions about which place or which city or which area in Syria to start the operation. Would it be Aleppo first or Homs first? What about the differences even in choosing the areas to start the humanitarian issue. Where would it start, Homs first or Aleppo first? Are there contradictions in this area, even on the humanitarian issue?

JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Thank you. I have begged the parties to be careful in what they say to the newspapers and the media. I only speak in this place, I do not give press interviews. Each of the two parties express their own point of view, not mine. I express my point of view and I do not mandate either of them to express my opinion. The situation is very difficult and very, very, very complicated. We are walking not one step at a time but half a step. Therefore, as I told you, what we have agreed upon is that tomorrow we will talk about the issue of people who have lost their freedom, only that. Then we will see what we talk about in the afternoon and on Monday. There is no doubt that we will discuss for sure the implementation of the 30 June communique, this is the main issue that we have come for, and the discussion on other issues is to prepare and to create an atmosphere - God willing - which will be suitable to discuss the main issue that we have come for. What I can assure you of is that I have begged our brothers on both sides not to talk a lot to the media, and for sure not to talk in my name. Normally, I am the one talking in their name.

Q: My question is about what have you discussed about the situation in Old Homs? Can we understand that it’s the ever first achievement, in terms of whatever sort of agreement that you make today between the two parties, that they would allow this access to Old Homs?

JSRS : No, there was no, we didn’t reach an agreement, but I don’t think the people who are here are going to reach an agreement on this. This is being discussed in Homs. It was discussed yesterday by the United Nations and the Government. The Government is going to meet his own side tomorrow, hopefully will allow. There is a convoy of necessities, non-food items and medical supplies, ready to go in. We hope that if it is allowed tomorrow. The idea is that if it is allowed tomorrow then maybe it could go in on Monday.

Q : (unofficial translation from Arabic) The Regime and the Opposition have only met with Brahimi being the third with them, therefore, Mr. Brahimi, how do you explain the denial of the Assad Regime through the SANA news agency of your remarks yesterday when you said that the delegations of the Opposition and Regime have agreed on the Geneva I communique as the first basis for the start of negotiations. Thank you Mr. Brahimi.

JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Well I have not seen what has been said in Damascus, but what I said was clear and correct. The two parties have agreed that we are here to discuss implementing the provisions of the 30 June 2012 communique.

Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the issue of the safe corridors and areas has been raised and Minister Al Mouallem raised in Damascus the issue of Aleppo as part of a security plan and implementing it on the ground. On the other side, the Opposition raised the issue of Homs. Up until now, based on what you have said, these details are being discussed. There are some areas which the Opposition are surrounding and some areas which the Government are surrounding. Will this mean that Homs will be the start of this issue?

JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) As I have said, our ambition, and as our brothers affirmed today, is to end this whole war and to return peace and security to the Syrian people. We have started to discuss humanitarian issues as an opening so that the people get used to talking to each other. God willing, when we move to the difficult issues, the discussions will be relatively a bit easier. We do not expect this to be easy. Discussing Homs, if we succeed with the issue of Homs, we hope that this will be the start of talking on other things..

Q : I wanted to say the threat of the terrorism, that is a big threat to Syrian people, and the region, and other countries in Europe. Can that be dealt separately from the case of Syria?

JSRS : There is no doubt that there is terrorism in Syria. There is no doubt that many countries are, are seriously preoccupied that, you know, that this terrorism that exists there will be exported, if that is the word, to other countries. The aim is to end the war, it is the war that has created the conditions for this terrorism to take root and expand. So we are addressing not only terrorism in isolation but all the aspects of the war. And I hope that terrorism will end, definitely, I am sure that terrorism will first be reduced and ultimately ended if the war is ended, and peace comes back to Syria.

Q : Good evening. Mr. Brahimi you have said yesterday that you called on the five Permanent Members of the Security Council of the United States [sic. United Nations] to put more influences to both parties of the Syrian conflict. So after the first face to face talk, could you please precisely say which direction you want them to push as they really do not share the same common ground. And as the only declaring, non-interfering position, what special role that China could play both in the political negotiations and in humanitarian aid? Thank you.

JSRS : China is not only as a member of the P5 but also as a big Asian country that has extremely important relations with the region including with Syria, they have presented us with five principles that are very interesting. We, the Secretary-General saw the Minister, Minister Wang, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Montreux, and we are in touch with the Chinese.

The P5, separately and collectively, we hope that they will exercise their influence on all sides inside Syria and in the region to get out of the ditch that they are in, and work with us on bringing peace back to Syria.

Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) You said in your remarks that Mr. Jarba did not attend, but you did not mention that most of the Regime’s delegation did not attend. Can we say this is a lack of cooperation from the delegation of the Regime? I want to hear what you have to say on this issue and this point.

JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) I said - my words were precise, I am not a party, my words are very precise - that the opposition said that Jarba was the head of the delegation and that there was a Chief Negotiator who is Hadi al-Bahra, and that the head of the Regime’s delegation today was, it was neither Walid Al Mouallem nor any of the Ministers but it was Ambassador Ja’afari. I also said that Walid Al Mouallem was present in the building but he did not attend the meeting. I did not hide anything from the Regime nor from anyone else.

Q : Mr Brahimi, the confidence-building measures being talked about at the moment, prisoner releases, and humanitarian access and such like, seem to place more weight of expectation on the pro-Assad forces than on the Opposition forces. I wonder if you think that there is any danger of such an imbalance of expectations and the concessions that need to be made by the two sides of the talks?

And also a quick one, when are you expecting them to talk to each other?

JSRS : They have talked to each other, they have talked to each other this afternoon. I don’t know how you think this is taking place! You know, we are in a room like this. I am in the bank like this. And they, one delegation is on the left, one is on the right and the other on the left and they face one another and they talk to one another. No, they talk through me to one another. But this is what happens in civilized discussions. You talk to the President or the Speaker or the Chairman. This is what has happened and I think it is a good beginning.

As to what is expected from whom, you know, I don’t look at it that way. I know that there are a lot of people who have lost their freedom. Prisoners, kidnapped, the nuns from Maaloula, the two bishops, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people of all ages that have been, that have disappeared or have been kidnapped. There is this woman, Razan Zeitouneh, and the three people who were with her, they have been, they just disappeared in the vicinity of Damascus. And nobody is accusing the Government of holding them.

All of those people I hope will recover their freedom. But isn’t it a fact that there are thousands and thousands of people in the jails of the Government? The United Nations has been calling for the freeing of, at least at the beginning, of women, old people and people underage.

So I am looking forward to the discussions tomorrow and praying that we will have some good news.

Thank you very much indeed.