18 January 2018
RER: Good evening, I had a two-hour meeting today with Dr. Fayssal Mekdad, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic, which was held in the framework of the continuous consultations between the Office of the Special Envoy and the Syrian government, on different levels, to push forward the path of a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis.
I can say that our discussions today were useful because it took place in a frank atmosphere, where we reviewed the progress achieved in the political path since my last visit to Damascus, assessed the achievements the previous rounds of intra-Syrian talks, and discussed the ongoing preparations for the UN special meeting with the government and opposition delegations to be held in Vienna on 25 and 26 January.
Mr. Mekdad told me that the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic will be participating in the Vienna special meeting next week.
As you know, during his briefing to the Security Council on the 19th of December, the UN Special Envoy highlighted his vision for the political process, focusing on the second and third baskets of constitution and elections. He was very specific with regards to his vision on the constitution which is how the UN sees how to deal with this sensitive issue. This was the core of our discussion today.
I have expressed to the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs the Special Envoy's expectation of the participation of the delegation of the Syrian government in this special meeting, during which we seek to make significant progress in the implementation of the provisions of Security Council resolution 2254, in particular with regards to the constitutional basket.
I also clarified to Mr. Deputy Minister that the concrete progress we are looking forward to in Vienna requires constructive engagement on the part of the government and the opposition with the specific outline put forward by the Special Envoy in his latest briefing to the Security Council on 19 December 2017.
I would like to emphasize the fact that the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Special Envoy to Syria have repeatedly stated that the UN is determined to continue its endeavors to bring the positions of the Syrian government and the opposition closer, which would lead to consensus on the full implementation of all the provisions of the aforementioned Security Council resolution, without preconditions and ensuring that the solution would be Syrian-made with the help of the United Nations.
Question: Why did you set this specific date for Vienna? During this special meeting you will be discussing the constitutional process, and during Sochi also this will be discussed, is this an attempt to undermine the National Dialogue conference in Sochi, or will Sochi be a continuation to what will be agreed upon in Vienna, and also will the UN Special Envoy participate in Sochi?
RER: First of all, the UN Special Envoy has mentioned several times, including during his briefing to the Security Council, that he will call for another round of talks during the month of January, so this is not a surprise. Second, why in this time, and why in Vienna? I think that the invitation that we sent out yesterday mentions that it is due to logistical arrangements that we convene this round of talks in Vienna as it was not possible to convene it in Geneva, due to logistical arrangements regarding hotels, etc. The UN has two headquarters in Europe, in Geneva and in Vienna.
As for discussing the constitution, it is true the National Dialogue congress in Sochi will discuss a number of issues, the most important of which will be the constitution. The Security Council Resolution 2254 is clear; it gives the UN Special Envoy the mandate to set the mechanism and time frame for drafting the constitution. We are keen to find complementarity between the two paths, as with the case in Astana, and we are on continuous consultations with the Russians to ensure so. When things are clearer, which we hope will be achieved during the Vienna meeting when the Syrian parties come together, we can then decide on our position regarding Sochi in light of some details that we asked to receive clarity on.
Question: To what extent can the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura guarantee that the next round of talks in Vienna will not have preconditions, and why is the internal Syrian opposition still excluded from these talks?
RER: The position of the UN is clear: we do not accept preconditions, from any side, and this is our position that has not changed. We look forward to the sides coming and discussing what we propose, which is what I discussed today with Mr. Mekdad. As for preconditions from one side or the other, this is completely rejected.
As for the internal opposition, we are dealing with what the UNSC Resolution 2254 stipulates, which was clear, referring to three platforms, which are unified now in one delegation following the Riyadh II meeting.
Question: Regarding the baskets to be discussed during the meeting, can we consider that the Vienna meeting is in preparation for the Sochi meeting?
RER: This is what we look forward to, and there is no doubt that the success of Vienna will be a success for Sochi. But as I mentioned we will focus only on the constitutional issues, as it is just a two-day meeting. This does not mean that any side cannot propose other issues, but as we seek to render Vienna a success so as to contribute to the success of Sochi, the UN Special Envoy for Syria sought to focus on the constitution.
Question: So there is coordination?
RER: We are in continuous consultations with the Russian side, which is the main sponsor of the conference.
Damascus, 18 January 2018