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Briefing to the UN Security Council by the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura

27 November 2017

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

1. I am briefing you from Geneva, as we are preparing for round 8 of the UN-convened intra-Syrian talks. Let me explain how we got here over the past month, and the approach to the talks at the moment.

2. Last month, you remember, I said: after Raqqa, after Deir-ez-Zor -- and let us perhaps now also say after the Government of Syria defeated ISIS recently in its last stronghold of Abu Kemal -- the operation to combat and defeat ISIS’ territorial foothold in Syria would have completed its main tasks, and there would be a moment of truth for bringing about a real political process. I still believe that a moment of truth has arrived; although I want to register at the moment my serious concern at the tremendous escalation of violence in Eastern Ghouta in these last weeks and on-going restrictions on humanitarian access to that area. As ISIL is being defeated, neither side should turn their guns back towards de-escalation zones, and I therefore would like to urge, together with you, the Astana guarantors to address these challenges in order to avoid these problems for the de-escalation areas.

3. To prepare for real talks in Geneva, I called for real diplomacy. My messages were essentially the following:
1) the Government delegation should come ready to negotiate;
2) we need a united opposition delegation with common positions that comes ready to negotiate;
3) negotiations should take place in Geneva [repeats: in Geneva] without any, any preconditions;
4) they should negotiate on a workplan initially focussing on the 12 living essential principles and the constitutional and election baskets, towards the implementation of SCR 2254;
5) all other initiatives [repeats: all other initiatives] should support the UN mediation process that you, this Council, mandated the United Nations to conduct - and no one else.

4. We have seen signals on all these points, and we will now see what happens in Geneva. I do note with great interest that in DaNang, Sochi, and Riyadh, important meetings have taken place that might help us, I believe, to begin a genuine negotiation process in Geneva. International players are clearly looking for some common ground based on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254, and are urging Syrians to begin to find some common ground too.

5. In DaNang, Russian President Putin and US President Trump affirmed that the political process, and I quote, “must include full implementation of UNSCR 2254”, end of quote. They also noted that this included, and I am quoting again, “constitutional reform and free and fair elections under UN supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate” – end of quote. This statement of the two Presidents followed a taking note by them of what they termed, and I quote, “President Assad’s recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254”, end of quote. As the mediator, I also noted that President Assad said in Sochi after meeting President Putin on 24 November, and I quote, “we do not want to look back. We will accept and talk with anyone [repeats: anyone] who is really interested in a political settlement”, end of quote.

6. Notwithstanding these potentially interesting and important signals, when my deputy, Ambassador Ramzy, held consultations in Damascus with the Government over the weekend, the Government did not yet confirm its participation in Geneva, but indicated that we would be hearing from them soon. Last night, we received a message that the Government would not travel to Geneva today. Naturally we hope and indeed expect that the Government will be on its way shortly, particularly in light of President Assad’s commitment to President Putin when they met in Sochi.

7. Turning to the opposition: last week, over three intensive days, and I witnessed one and a half of them, an expanded opposition conference was convened in Riyadh. Participants reflected the main components of the Syrian mosaic and the ideological diversity within the Syrian opposition and the Syrian society. Resolution 2254 mentions by name three groupings -- those who met in Riyadh 1, the Cairo Platform and the Moscow Platform -- and they were all there. Armed groups controlling territory inside of Syria, including those involved in Astana and the various de-escalation arrangements, were active participants in Riyadh. There was a strong participation – finally – by women. There was a strong presence of independents including activists, business people, and tribal figures. Several parties based inside Syria were actually represented through their own political umbrellas, including representatives based inside Syria.

8. As this Riyadh 2 initiative was clearly designed within the framework of advancing resolution 2254 and the Geneva process, which speaks clearly of three by name, and “others”, I was glad to attend it to urge the participants to move ahead. I also took note of other international attendees at the opening of the conference, including Russian Presidential Envoy Lavrientev. After I left to travel to Moscow for useful consultations, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I were both active in assisting the efforts of Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir, whose determined efforts in order to obtain the outcome that we saw we really should be appreciating. The Syrian Negotiations Commission formed in Riyadh is now in the process of arriving in Geneva while we are talking -- I expect this process will be completed by tomorrow morning coming from various locations.

9. I publicly noted that the participants in Riyadh unequivocally rejected terrorism and affirmed that the solution to the crisis is political, not military. I have noted that they formed a united opposition delegation reflecting the full diversity of the participants to the conference. And I have noted that the delegation was tasked to negotiate in Geneva without any, repeat any, preconditions, to discuss all issues on the agenda, and to have the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions as the sole reference for the negotiation.

Mr. President,

10. Assuming that both parties arrive in Geneva, we will be looking to move them into beginning serious discussions and hopefully negotiations. Let me make one thing clear: we will not accept any preconditions from either party.

11. And let us be clear what a precondition is: it is when one party says: “I will not begin to negotiate with the other side unless they do or say the following”. I hope both parties hear this message. I will also assess, as a mediator should be doing, the parties’ engagement by what they do in the room, and how positively they engage on a workplan and show a genuine readiness to discuss, negotiate, regardless of their stated public positions on any issue. We know that there are always differences. That is what negotiations are really, and each side has the right to express its own opinion, which might not be pleasant for the other one as long as they don’t put preconditions and refuse to talk to the other side. That is what negotiations are all about. Resolution 2254 is a guideline for this.

12. What can therefore that workplan more or less look like? We can do this by looking at the end goal of resolution 2254 and then working backwards.

13. Resolution 2254, if we all remember, culminates in an end-goal of free and fair elections held under UN supervision [repeats: under UN supervision], to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote – no exclusion, refugees included of course. They must also be preceded by the popular ratification of a new constitution, and the draft constitution should be produced according to an inclusive schedule and process that, as resolution 2254 says, is set via a process in Geneva. Clearly, the drafting and approval process must be all-inclusive and a national dialogue and/or a national conference would be important components of this overall process.

14. Serious engagement and negotiations on these matters should proceed on the basis of resolution 2254 and guided by the living 12 principles developed during the process which can paint a clear vision for the future of Syria that can be shared by all. I believe, with goodwill, Inchallah, it should be possible to narrow the differences on these principles.

15. If possible, we would also begin to explore issues pertaining to baskets 1 and 4 – namely governance and counter-terrorism, security governance and confidence-building measures.

16. I will be discussing all this with all who are coming to Geneva, and I will share with them thoughts and a workplan for the negotiation process. And as I do so, I will be reminding them that the time has come to demonstrate, not to us, not even to you, but to the Syrian people that they care about their survival, their lives and the lives of their loved ones -- through immediate, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access and medical evacuations from besieged areas, and in willingly addressing the plight of detainees, abductees and missing people - and believing concretely in a negotiation on a political process.

Mr. President,

17. Throughout the process various ideas have emerged for a wider gatherings of Syrian stakeholders. Indeed, the Geneva process itself does require such a gathering of Syrians and I have been building the foundation for it by inviting Syrians from all walks of life, from inside and outside, to participate.

18. In this context, let me also stress that more than 200 civil society actors will be engaged here in Geneva now in the UN-led political process in Geneva over the next weeks as part of the intra-Syrian talks. In the coming days, the Women Advisory Board will be fully engaged, once again, and in the real negotiations. I will engage a group of Syrian legal and constitutional experts and hear their advice and expertise. I will be engaging with civil society organizations with human rights expertise including detainees, abductees and missing persons; aided by technology we will be able to get in touch with refugee community leaders, in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; and with civil society actors working in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. All that from Geneva. I count on their commitment to the political process, sense of citizenship, and real contact with the real problems on the ground and their own insights and ideas in order to strengthen our on-going mediation efforts.

19. I note the initiative of France to bring together representatives of the five permanent members of this Council here in Geneva, for a preparatory meeting tomorrow at which I was invited to participate to elaborate on the agenda of this round. I am looking forward to any expression of support by the international community, including the Security Council, to the efforts of the United Nations to implement resolution 2254 -- through a UN-led political process in Geneva.

20. As you are aware, the Russian Federation has continued to pursue plans for a large gathering related to Syria, in the relatively near future but with no date set as yet. I should report that the Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met recently in Sochi. The Russian Federation has sought the United Nations support for this conference. I have been in continuous and open consultations with them. I have also continued to assess the views of Syrians, and the wider international community, including all members of the Security Council, bearing in mind the mandate given to the United Nations by you in this Council – by you. Therefore, it is, as far as I can see, premature for me at this stage to say anything regarding this initiative. And I will continue to view this proposal and all other initiatives through the same prism: does it contribute to effective UN-led intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva to implement resolution 2254? Yes or no?

Mr. President,

21. Syria has been at war for the last 6 years. Half of its population have fled their homes. Reconstruction will cost at least 250 billion US dollars. There have been myriad of obstacles to a settlement: a constellation of actors; a variety of shifting agendas, and a real danger, still there, of soft but concrete fragmentation of the Syria’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. And then we have had history’s largest and wealthiest terrorist group bringing in terrorists from over 100 countries; the use of force against civilians on a horrific scale. All this has been in front of our eyes for the past 6 years.

22. This crisis, one of the worst in the history of the United Nations, now has the potential to move towards a genuine political process. A clearer map of de-escalation, ceasefire and de-confliction arrangements has emerged, largely enabled by Astana and Amman. We see the emergence of international consensus, and we must begin to stitch the process into concrete results, enabling Syrians to determine their own future freely. The united support of the international community, centred on this Council, will be vital if negotiations are to move forward in a concrete way.

Thank you, Mr. President.


27 November 2017