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Transcript of on-the-record remarks by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, during breakfast with the press

15 February 2019

GOP: As you know I have been travelling rather extensively and of course [I felt] my first duty, was to go to Damascus and to discuss with the government and then to go on to Riyadh to discuss with the SNC. And I think in both places I was very positively received and we had in-depth discussions on what is my mandate. And as you all know my mandate is Security Council resolution 2254.

I told both the government and the SNC in Riyadh, as I am telling all Syrians, that I am striving them to actualise the vision of a future Syria, based on Security Council resolution 2254, in all its aspects. I have emphasised the respect for unity, the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Syria. I have stressed that confidence building is needed, that we need ceasefires to be respected, and of course that we will continue to fight terrorism.

I have addressed all issues related also to governance, to the constitutional process, and the need for UN-supervised elections. And obviously also have had in-depth discussions on the refugees’ issue, on the situation for the IDPs, on the humanitarian challenges and on reconstructions.

I have told all my interlocutors, including the Syrian parties, that I also wish to continue the discussion on the constitutional committee, building on the work of my predecessor.

2254 speaks about a UN-facilitated process, that should lead to the constitution and then to UN-supervised elections. I see the constitutional committee as a potential door-opener for the political process, but in parallel with this we also need to work on other issues. And I hope to be able to discuss this in more detail with both the Syrian parties, the government in Damascus, and of course the SNC, and that is related to building trust and confidence.

2254 is very clear when it comes to the need for confidence-building measures, and I do believe that we need to see a change of course on the ground in Syria, to also to be able to move forward to build trust between the people of Syria.

I have also, both in Damascus and in Riyadh with the opposition there, discussed the issues about the detainees and the missing persons, this is also an important element of Security Council (resolution) 2254 and of course is also part of the mandate of the Astana 3 and the work that they are doing. And as you might have noticed there was a second release that took place just a few days ago, with 20 people from each side. We need to continue to work on this, and hopefully be able to increase the number of people that will be released and also to get clarity on missing persons.

I always emphasise that there is only a negotiated solution that is possible, and that in a negotiated solution obviously the two parties will need to sit down together and to start real negotiations. My job is to help the parties, to facilitate. I believe that my job obviously will continue to be very difficult, I will aim to bridge the gaps that are very large, I intend to be an impartial, careful and focused mediator, dealing directly with the all the parties, and then seeing how we can sort out the issues that had made progress so far so hard to achieve.

So, I will be looking to identify differences, and hopefully will be looking for commonalities. Thank you so much.

Question: I was just wondering if you could say something about what kind of different approach you might be taking from your predecessor, from Mr. de Mistura and also if you plan to have talks in Geneva at any time soon.

GOP: It is obviously my hope that we will be able to, you know as soon as possible, to have the constitutional committee to meet in Geneva and as I said hopefully that would then be the start of some serious discussions that could be the door-opener to a political process that will lead to a negotiated outcome for the conflict.

This is not the time to discuss whether I will have a different approach from Staffan [de Mistura], as I said, the circumstances were rather different when Staffan [de Mistura] started, I think [he and his team] have achieved quite a lot, the question now is how can I build on the work that my predecessor has done and hopefully to successfully more the process forward.

Question: Much of the political pace has been done recently by the Astana countries, in certain periods your predecessor tried also to engage directly with the people on the ground when there was a deadlock with these countries. Now that the situation has changed a lot on the ground how do you think about engaging directly with the citizens in order also to put pressure on the big stakeholders?

GOP: Obviously, you know engagement with the Syrian civil society will continue to be extremely important, and here I think Staffan [de Mistura] has really developed quite something - that I will hopefully be able to build upon. I want to meet as broad as possible segment from the Syrian population, and then as Syrian civil society obviously - you know also the importance of meeting with women, and to continue to focus also on the gender aspect of the crisis. I have been working with quite a few international crises and we learned a few lessons, and that is of course that if we want to develop a sustainable peaceful solution we need the engagement of all sorts of civil society, and not the least women, in the process and if we do not get that in to the process, historically it has been proven, the solutions are then not sustainable. So, these are an extremely important aspect of the work that we are doing.

Question: You explained that the social and economic situation is horrific and that the country is destroyed, now when it looks like Assad is staying in power, a lot of the countries do not want to pay for the reconstruction, US, Europe and so forth, how worried are you about this? Who will end up paying for the reconstruction?

GOP: I think I will answer the following way: obviously for Syria to come out of the crisis we need a comprehensive approach. And obviously that approach should lead to the IDPs being able to return to their homes, the refugees being able to return to their homes, but of course there are certain requirements for that to happen and the refugees, the voluntary return of refugees, will be important for the future of Syria. And hopefully then we can have a political process that will enable this to happen. The UN, when the time is right, will definitely contribute to the reconstruction of Syria, but as you all know, the UN depends of course on the donor community to be able to move forward on these issues. So, this is a very important issue, a very complex issue and I think it is linked to what I said already, that we need a comprehensive solution to the crisis. But it is also fair to say that we know also from older experiences that you know if you have a peace agreement then you also need jobs, you need security and you need justice, if you are to have a sustainable process.

Question: Thank you, your off-the-record was very frank and this is good too, my concern is about Idleb, since you explained that in some detail, is this going to be important for you, right now, and how much attention? And would it have been better if the Syrian government were in control rather than these folks?

GOP: Let me say the following that obviously the agreement between Russia and Turkey, I believe it was in October last year, is extremely important. I believe that you know, it helped us to avoid a humanitarian disaster, and I have been following very closely, of course, the discussions between Russia and Turkey on this and I am pleased to see that the focus now is on finding a peaceful solution to the crisis, and of course this is a UN’s appeal, is that we have to do whatever is in our power to make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where you will have a new humanitarian disaster of enormous proportion. So far, we follow this, we understand of course that the situation with HTS controlling the area is not something that can be sustained for the future, but pleased to see that there is a commitment to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Question: I don’t know how long you are going to be in the job but would you feel by the end of it that you would have failed if you would not have stood on the podium with two men shaking hands declaring this is the end of the war? Are you expecting that point to come during your tenure?

GOP: I will not describe to you how I see the picture, but yes, of course, the aim is to have a negotiated outcome where two parties agree, with international support, and that that will be the beginning for a new Syria. The potential in Syria is enormous, so to be able to get to the situation where you can say that we had been able to put eight years of conflict behind us and that we as Syrians agree that they will begin the process of creating a future for Syrians, that is something, yes, that would be the definition that we had been successful, I agree.

Question: Do you think the announcement of US withdrawal from Syria will harm any possibility of continuity of negotiations, or on the contrary maybe will make it easier to go ahead?

GOP: Very short answer for that, the future will help us to understand, today I don’t know.

Question: You talked about getting the constitutional committee meeting as soon as possible, could you maybe unpack that a little bit and define what “as soon as possible” means, and secondly is there a confidence building measure that you can identify that concretely you expect to see some progress on in the immediate future?

GOP: On the last, a bit too early for me to go public on this, but yes, we do have some ideas that we are working on but as I said it is extremely important now to build trust and confidence with the government and with the SNC, and based on that hopefully to be able to move forward. On the constitutional committee, when I say as soon as possible is as concrete as I can be today, you know we have had good discussions with the relevant parties, I think we had identified the challenges and we have agreed on how we should move forward and that I see as a very positive sign.

Thank you.


Geneva, 15 February 2019