5 April 2017
Thank you all of you for being here and having this special occasion and Federica let me say on behalf of the Secretary-General (SG), myself and the UN, how much we appreciate working hand in hand with you and with the EU.
We need to be together because, as you know the situation is very complex.
You heard the SG and his words are as strong as mine, you will be hearing also my colleague O’Brien, who will be talking about the humanitarian side. I will be, with your permission, focusing more on the political aspects of it. But just like all of you, I cannot simply pretend nothing happened, because the terrible and horrific chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, near Idlib, yesterday morning - just one day before Brussels by the way, and not by accident - has produced a justified outrage in all of us - I speak on behalf of all of you, all around this table - in a shock wave worldwide, but particularly in Syria, among the Syrian people and the Syrian population.
So, we have had, and I must tell you, a pattern, not as bad and as horrific as yesterday, but a pattern I have been watching myself: every time we have a conference or a meeting or something that can give some hope or some perception of hope about the future of Syria, there is a temptation by some, through horrific acts, to kidnap the event, divert it to send some form of cruel statement, not so much to us, but to the people of Syria.
The international community needs to have a firm response to that, and based on a credible investigation - I understand there are meetings, which is going to take place in New York on this, by OPCW- that should aim to clarify the origin and nature of this additional horrific attack. If one supposes this attack was to undermine the Astana process, the Geneva process and the Brussels conference, well we must do all what we can, and I think we are doing it. All the pictures we have seen so far, are just sending the contrary message. You did not impress us, we are horrified, we are outraged but we are not going to feel this is a way to divert our attention from what we need to do about Syria.
If we listen to the Syrian society, we will be hearing, as Federica just said, the civil society, about the two very clear examples of what the civil society can do and say. They speak freely, they are open, they are in the country with the people, they do not have politically correct or incorrect positions. They speak with their heart apart from their very well known structure. And the Syrian women, that is why we have one visitor representing 51 percent of the Syria population. Their first question is cease-fire and you can use an Arabic word for it, Hudna that is what they are telling us. They want a cease-fire, the rest can take time, it does take time. No conference has in the world, and in a conflict of seven years, [been] short, but at least a strong message should come from all of us reflecting that point. The cease-fire declared by Astana Guarantors who should be feeling the responsibility of that guarantee on the 29th of December 2016 - and they are important guarantors because they do have a capacity of influencing all sides of the conflict, except one of course Daesh, none of us want to influence them, we just want to address their threat. And they originally made a substantive difference through the cease-fire and indeed it helped me to shape an environment conducive to reconvene the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. So the two things are connected, no preconditions I know the music, but they are connected, no doubt about that.
So thanks to the Astana cease-fire, which needs to be reinstalled now and improved, this has allowed us to reconvene two rounds which were characterized by: participation and presence of all. All the Syrian parties invited as per resolution 2254, they were all there, we even witnessed in a room as big as this one, quiet a magic moment, when everyone was seated in the same room, they did not talk to each other but they looked at each other and they did not address each other and they were part of the same opening ceremony. They did allow the establishment of an agenda, which we never had. They agreed even on an agenda, on four main baskets of issues, all of them interlinked and mutually supporting, and all linked to an all-inclusive political and transitional process, as clearly indicated in resolution 2254. We have no other resolution to refer to and everybody needs to support that one, so let us stick to that one.
One, a new, all inclusive governance after [resolution] 2254 - I don’t need to go into all the details you know that by heart. Two, a new process for a new constitution, not the old one and new elections under UN supervision including diaspora and refugees. And then, counter-terrorism, but in the context of security reform and CBMs, not just counter-terrorism in general. All that has been agreed, is being discussed and we have been having serious discussions. The fifth round went even further: no one left – you may say this is the minimum, well, it was not a given, despite or due to the fact that meanwhile the ceasefire was starting to get even more under danger on the ground. No one refused to come and no breakthrough took place which I expected but no breakdowns too. There were very strong and rhetoric statements. But no one refused to come. And no breakthrough took place, but no breakdown either. And you should know that on many subjects, and the parties and the sides will probably not admit it because you know they have to maintain a rather rhetorical position on that - we have been able to address details on each of the four baskets. We may ask, is this leading to peace, no but the day we will have, god willing, inshallah, a conference which will be supported by all of you and where in fact we will starting having a concrete peace negotiations, all those parts will have been in a way, addressed, and we could also talk on the core of the issue, which would be in fact the one about implementing resolution 2254 and finally a commonly agreed agreement. So we had some incremental progress and we need to keep this momentum. The word momentum is not just a generic word, we need to maintain it to be able to respond to those who do want to not have a momentum plus even those who actually had the attacks yesterday.
Next, Security Council in a few days. I will be in New York and I will be consulting my Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and I will propose to the UN to reconvene a 6th round in May. The day and the approval is required and it will be my proposal. But to do so we need Astana guarantors to restore and frankly improve the ceasefire. Hence my letter which I wrote to the three guarantors/Foreign Ministers a few days ago saying we need your engagement, re-engagement, stronger engagement and your message today in Brussels is helping in that direction.
Bottom line: We need to send a constant, strong message, not to ourselves but to the Syrian people that they will not become a forgotten war. They made it clear - they may be right sometimes. We need to send that message and you will get it from them. We need to hear their voices, and the voice of civil society and of the Syrian women because they are the voices which are, by far, more logical, more reasonable and capable of even showing compromise. They need to hear that we can tell them that they can still count on us and hope is not given up. And I think this event, this important conference, is in this direction.
We need, secondly to remind the government, in whatever form we can, that even if it may believe that sometimes – early warning – that if it believes there is a chance for a military victory, it will not be sustainable. Without a political, inclusive, transitional process, genuine negotiations and 2254. And to the opposition to be ready for a genuine pragmatic negotiations so that we do start having also more concrete outcomes of this momentum.
Reconstruction, reconstruction is an important incentive to everyone to those who need to see it, to have hope, the civilians, the Syrian people and to everyone else who can realise that it is possible, necessary and can be part of a credible and inclusive, political agreement. The EU and the UN are working hand in hand and I am proud of that, thank you.