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28 August 2013

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's press conference by Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria in Geneva.

Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (JSRS): Good morning everyone. Thank you very much for coming. This is really a “prise de contact” as we are here for, I don’t know how long.

I don’t have any sensational news to share with you but you know, Syria is now undoubtedly the most serious crisis facing the international community, facing the Syrian people in the first place, and the region, and the rest of the world.

And these last few days, developments have been even more dramatic, with what has happened on 21 August last week. It does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people. Hundreds. Definitely more than hundreds. Some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000 people.

This is of course unacceptable. This is outrageous. This confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is and how important for the Syrians and the international community to really develop the political will to address this issue seriously and look for a solution for it.

As you know we have been working on trying to get the parties and everybody else to what is called the Geneva II Conference. We have been working essentially with the Americans and the Russians, because it is the meeting of 7 May in Moscow between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry that has created the international space for us to work on this conference.

I think that it is what has happened on 21 August makes it even more urgent and more important to create the conditions for a successful Geneva II conference. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know at this stage.

I am sure you have some questions. I apologise that I will not be able to answer all your questions but I will do my best.

And thank you again for being here. Thank you.

Q: My question is about all the situations of the last days that chances of international intervention in Syria are growing. And what do you think, if there is such an intervention, what will be the chances for a solution for Syria, what will be the future for Syria?

JSRS: I am like you, I read in Tass and other news agencies the stories about possible military action against, in Syria. I don’t know if that decision has been taken by the Americans, because it is the Americans who are said to be thinking of this military intervention. I don’t know if they have taken that decision, I don’t know what they are going to do.

I have spoken to the Americans. I have spoken to the Russians. Both sides, both countries tell me that they are still interested and committed to the Geneva II Conference. They both know that what has happened on 21 August will have an effect on how we proceed and how we get to that conference. But apart from that, I don’t know anything more.

Q: M. Lakhdar Brahimi, on sait très bien que les politiques n’aiment pas spéculer, mais dans le cas où il y a une frappe, quelles sont les chances pour Genève II - parce qu’il y a des analystes qui voient que c’est une chance pour Genève II. J’aimerais bien vous entendre.

JSRS: La réponse simple et rapide, c’est que je ne sais pas. Je dis qu’il y a un avant 21 août, et un après 21 août. S’il y a une action militaire qui intervient, il n’y a pas de doutes que ça aura un effet sur la situation en Syrie. Est-ce que ça précipitera, est-ce que ça va accroître, si vous voulez, l’intérêt pour une solution politique ou au contraire, il y aura une tentation pour dire « On n’a pas besoin d’une solution politique, on peut avoir une solution militaire », je n’en sais rien.

Moi, je continue à croire qu’il n’y aura pas de solution militaire en Syrie, il n’y aura qu’une solution politique et le plus tôt on travaille sérieusement pour cette solution politique, mieux ça vaut.

Q: Mr. Brahimi, should the United States be required to have Security Council authorization before a strike? And if it does not get that, how much would that complicate your peace efforts?

JSRS: I think that international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says. What will happen, then again, I don’t know.

I think I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don’t know. But certainly international law is very clear, the Security Council has to be brought in.

Q: Mr. Brahimi, you’ve said what you’ve said about international law, but the United States and Britain have already said they believe chemical weapons were used and that the Syrian Government was responsible. So doesn’t that leave the United Nations and its inspectors a bit out of the loop now?

JSRS: You know, we have inspectors, the United Nations has inspectors on the spot. They have already spent one day in one area where this substance, whatever it is, has been used. They have come back with a lot of samples. They have talked also to doctors, they have talked to witnesses. As we speak, if I am not mistaken, what I heard less than a couple of hours ago is that they are in another area, just now, as we speak. And we are waiting to see what they are going to tell us.

I know that the Americans and the British and others say that they know that chemical weapons have been used. What we have been told is that this evidence that the Americans, the British, the French say they have, is going to be shared with us. It hasn’t been until now. And we will be very, very, very interested to hear from them what this evidence they have is.

Q: Mr. Brahimi, as you represent also the Arabic League and the Arabic countries in your mandate, how do you see the assessment of the Arabic League if (there is) any military action in Syria in coming days. And I would like to ask another question in a very clear way. If (there is) any military intervention or action in Syria, are you going to continue your mandate?

JSRS: There is no direct link between my mandate and the military action. Unfortunately, there is a lot of military action in Syria these days, as you know and has been the case for almost two years now, for more than two years. What I am going to do? I will tell you if I decide to do anything, you will hear about it.

Q: (inaudible)

JSRS: I have read in the press what this is... I think one of the most important things I have seen is that the Security Council must act. They have also said that the Syrian regime is responsible for this. But as I told you, we are waiting to see what the facts are.

Q: There seems to be a widespread assumption that military intervention would be bad for your efforts and for the peace process. But given the Bosnian example where after the Srebrenica massacre and other events, there was finally a NATO bombing campaign that seemed to have precipitated the peace talks. Do you see any glimmer of hope that in fact military intervention in Syria could actually speed up Geneva II and improve the chances for a settlement?

JSRS: Some people are saying that. I think a big title in one of the Arab newspapers this morning says exactly that, that if this strike takes place then we go straight into Geneva II. I don’t know. The Russians and the Americans are both telling me they remain committed to Geneva II. But what will happen, I think we will know only if and when this military action takes place.

Q: Merci beaucoup M. Brahimi. Une question et peut-être, une autre pendante. Il y a eu, selon certains chiffres qui ont été corroborés, ou disons publiés aussi par les Nations Unies, depuis le début de la crise en Syrie à peu près 100.000 morts. Devrait-on juste attendre qu’on ait utilisé des armes dites non-conventionnelles pour réagir? Est-ce que notre morale et le droit international autorisent l’utilisation d’armes conventionnelles pour tuer des êtres humains, et c’est parce qu’on a utilisé des armes chimiques ou autres qu’on devrait réagir?

Autre chose parce qu’a déjà été posée cette question qui est fondamentale pour nous qui suivons les Nations Unies. Je pense que votre mandat est de veiller sur la paix du monde. Est-ce qu’aujourd’hui, si Obama, pour citer un nom, et Laurent Fabius décidaient avec les Anglais d’aller frapper la Syrie, est-ce que l’ONU aura le courage de dire : « Nous ne sommes pas pour cette guerre », d’autant plus que de plus en plus, la grande maison est en train de perdre sa crédibilité? Je vous remercie.

JSRS: Ecoutez, c’est moi qui vous remercie pour cette tirade très humaniste et très pro-United Nations. C’est moi qui vous remercie pour cela.

Vous avez parfaitement raison, il y a eu 100.000 morts et moi, je n’ai pas cessé de dire que c’est un scandale que, en particulier, le Conseil de Sécurité soit resté paralysé pendant deux ans. Et ça, je l’ai dit au Conseil de Sécurité même. Je leur ai dit: « Vous dites et vous êtes fiers de dire que vous êtes responsables pour la paix et la sécurité dans le monde. La plus grande crise qui menace la paix et la sécurité dans le monde aujourd’hui, c’est la Syrie, et vous ne faites rien pour régler ce problème.

Je suis d’accord avec vous qu’il n’y avait pas de raison d’attendre qu’un agent chimique ait probablement été utilisé pour qu’on s’intéresse enfin à la Syrie. Mais le fait est que les armes chimiques sont interdites depuis 1925 et que l’utilisation des armes chimiques est un crime en soi; que ça tue 1 personne ou 200 personnes ou 10.000 personnes, l’utilisation est interdite. Maintenant, comment on réagit, ça c’est une autre affaire.

Qu’est-ce que les Nations Unies? Les Nations Unies, vous savez, c’est Obama, c’est Fabius, c’est M. Cameron: eux aussi, sont les Nations Unies. Et les Nations Unies, c’est aussi M. Ban Ki-moon. M. Ban Ki-moon fait un discours aujourd’hui, je crois qu’il va parler de la Syrie, et c’est certainement le problème qui le préoccupe le plus par les temps qui courent. Comment l’organisation dans ses composantes diverses, c’est-à-dire le Conseil de Sécurité et le Secrétaire général, vont réagir, ça je ne peux pas vous le dire pour le moment.

Q: Mr. Brahimi could you tell us what you think a negotiated political settlement would look like, if one could be reached? Is there some idea? And also would it include Mr. Bashar al-Assad or not?

JSRS: You know, the basis on which Geneva II is built is the declaration of 30 June 2012, here in Geneva, at Geneva I. There is a detailed process described in that declaration and it all goes around the creation of a, what they call, a governing body with full executive powers. That means formed by mutual consent, it is going to have a delegation from the government and a delegation from the opposition. They are going to agree on a governing body that is going to exercise power in Syria until elections are held and a new dispensation is implemented in Syria. This is the idea. Now some people say that, you know, you will go to an election and then Bashar al-Assad will he stand or will he not stand, will he be allowed to stand or will he not be allowed to stand?

But what I think that what has been decided now, I think accepted by everybody who is interested in Geneva II is that people are going to come to Geneva II without preconditions. Then the negotiations will start between the two parties mediated by the United Nations, and hopefully we will reach this beautiful land where we have this governing body with full executive powers and then a transition period that will take us to the new Syria. My feeling is that it will be a new Syria. My feeling is that the Syrians, I think there is, there is nearly unanimity. Not unanimity, but certainly a large consensus among Syrians whether they are actively engaged against the government or not, they all want to give up this presidential system and have a parliamentary system. So then the problem of Mr. Bashar al-Assad does not come up if that is what happens. But then for the moment, we are a little bit far from that.

Q: M. Brahimi, depuis votre nomination pour cette mission, on voit que la solution politique malheureusement s’éloigne de plus en plus et, vu ce qui se passe aujourd’hui sur le terrain, je peux dire, excusez-moi du mot, qu’elle est presque morte. Est-ce que vous pensez que votre mission peut sauver quelque chose ? Y aura-t-il vraiment un Genève II ou bien attendez-vous juste ce qui se passe sur le terrain pour vous déclarer ?

JSRS: Moi, je ne suis pas d’accord que la solution politique soit morte. J’ai l’impression que de plus en plus, les gens voient que, quand-même, la solution militaire n’intervient pas. Le gouvernement dit qu’ils sont en train de combattre le terrorisme et qu’ils vont gagner dans deux semaines, trois semaines ; ça fait deux ans qu’ils n’ont pas gagné. L’opposition disait la même chose : « Bachar va tomber, Bachar est tombé, Bachar va tomber la semaine prochaine, le mois prochain ». Ce n’est pas arrivé. La solution militaire a démontré ses limites, si vous voulez. Et je crois que de plus en plus de gens disent qu’il ne peut y avoir qu’une solution politique. C’est ce que Kerry a dit et répété vingt fois ces derniers mois. Les Russes disent aussi la même chose. Je crois que les Européens aussi, qui à un certain moment pensaient que le régime de Bachar allait tomber et être remplacé par l’opposition qu’ils soutiennent, commencent à parler d’une solution – ont commencé à parler d’une solution politique. Le 21 août, il s’est passé quelque chose de très, très grave, qui est considéré comme grave par tout le monde. On va voir quels changements cela va opérer. Vous avez des gens qui vous disent que la leçon à tirer du 21 août est de dire : « Pressez-vous à trouver et à mettre en œuvre une solution politique ». Maintenant, qu’est-ce qu’il va se passer, je n’en sais rien. Pour mon problème personnel, ce n’est rien du tout ; vous savez, hier, j’ai dit à la BBC que moi, je pense à démissionner tous les matins. Peut-être qu’un jour je vais dire : « Oui, peut-être il faut que je m’en aille ». Cela fait un an que je suis sur ce dossier, mais mon problème personnel n’est pas important du tout ; c’est le problème du peuple syrien qui est important et c’est ce qu’il faut voir, c’est comment aider le peuple syrien à sortir de ce calvaire.

Q: You are opposed to military intervention and so my question is, if turns out that indeed Bashar al-Assad is behind this chemical attack, how should the international community punish him? How should he be held accountable for his actions so that this kind of action doesn’t continue?

JSRS: You know, I think that if you want a legal answer to your question, the legal answer to your question is ‘brought to the Security Council’. These decisions are taken by the Security Council.

Now the regime in Syria, I don’t think there are many people who consider that it is, that if they are responsible for what has happened on 21 August, I don’t think you will find many people who think that this is the first outrageous thing that has been done by this regime. 100,000 people have been killed. Quite a few of them have been killed by the regime. So I think, from my point of view, if there is one complaint about the international community it’s that they haven’t done enough before 21 August. If they can do more after 21 August then that would be great.

I am against by principle – there is enough killing that has taken place in Syria. We don’t want more killing. We want this killing to end. So I am against military intervention by principle. But what will happen, you know, we will see what will happen. Who has the right to punish Bashar al-Assad or anybody else, and who hasn’t the right to do that, all these questions I am sure you will be discussing them in your newspapers and television stations indefinitely.

JSRS: Thank you very much indeed for your patience, thank you very much indeed.