transcript of press conference
by Joint Special Representative for Syria (JSRS) Lakhdar Brahimi
Geneva, 31 January 2014
JSRS : Good afternoon everyone. Thank you again for your patience and your interest. As it was suggested yesterday, today I have a written statement and if you don’t have it, ask Corinne, not me! You are going to hear from the leaders of the parties, I understand, and you are going to hear from them things that are completely different from what I am going to tell you, because each one will present their respective reading of what happened this week and I am presenting my reading of what happened, with a deliberate effort today in this statement to speak almost only about the few positive elements, because we want to look to the next steps. And I sincerely think that there are some elements that can be, that can offer a beginning, and a ground to stand on, if there is political will to look for a solution.
This is the text:
At this first session of the Geneva Conference on Syria, the Syrian Government and the Syrian Opposition met for the first time in three years to discuss the war and to try and find a political solution, to save their country.
At Montreux, more than 40 countries, along with the United Nations itself and three regional organizations, came together to insist that the unspeakable suffering of the population of Syria must cease. They urged the two sides to come to a political settlement that meets the aspirations of the people of Syria and also they appealed for the full implementing the Geneva Communiqué of the 30th of June 2012.
Over the past eight days here in Geneva, the sides engaged each other through me. It was a very difficult start. But the sides have become used to sitting in the same room. They have presented positions and listened to one another. There have been moments when one side has even acknowledged the concerns and the difficulties and the point of view of the other side. Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner. This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build.
The sides came here to discuss a political solution. But whenever Syrians meet these days, they cannot but discuss the terrible situation on the ground, and they did. I appealed for action to address the desperate humanitarian situation in Syria. Homs was extensively discussed, though unfortunately there has been no breakthrough yet. We also discussed access to other places, as well as the idea of a country-wide pause in the fighting, to allow access to all areas.
A little bit of good news came yesterday, with the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees. But so much more is needed. Humanitarian discussions will continue on the ground between the Governor of Homs, in particular, and the United Nations but also between the United Nations and the authorities in Damascus about other places.
In terms of the political settlement, I noted on the very first day that the sides were committed to discussing the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30th of June. Both sides have offered their respective visions of the future of Syria and how this vision can be achieved through the implementation of that communiqué. This week we started to discuss the specific areas of the cessation of violence in all its forms, including the fight against terrorism, and the transitional governing body exercising full executive powers.
The gaps between the sides remain wide. There is no use pretending otherwise. Nevertheless, during our discussions, I observed a little bit of common ground – perhaps more than the two sides themselves realize or recognize. I shared these points with the two sides today, and I thought perhaps I should share them with you.
· Both sides are committed to discussing the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué to achieve a political solution for Syria, and they repeated that today.
· Two, both sides know that, to implement the Geneva Communiqué, they must reach agreement on the permanent and comprehensive end to the conflict and on the establishment of a transitional governing body, as well as on the subsequent steps, chief amongst them national dialogue, constitutional review, and elections.
· Both sides understand that the conflict in their country has imposed immense and unacceptable suffering on the Syrian people. Both sides recognize the urgent need to bring that violence to an end. We hope they will also redouble their efforts to seek earlier opportunities to reduce, to at least reduce, the level of violence on the ground.
· Four, both sides believe that the future of Syria can only be determined by the people of Syria themselves, men and women, through peaceful means alone, without any external intervention and interference, direct or indirect.
· Five, both sides are committed to ensuring that the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of Syria needs to be fully respected, and that no loss of territory will ever be accepted.
· Six, both sides foresee a future for the country that reflects the best of the historical and cultural traditions of Syria and its diverse people and its history of harmony and tolerance.
· Seven, both sides understand that the Syrian people are longing for a genuinely democratic Syria, where governance is transparent and accountable and based on human rights and the rule of law.
· Eight, both sides understand that the humanitarian situation of the population must be addressed rapidly, on the basis of need alone, wherever such need exists in the country. We hope they will act on this, and on the issue of detainees, the kidnapped, and the disappeared.
· Nine, both sides recognize that the safety and security of all in Syria must be preserved and assured, along with the continued functioning and reform of State institutions and public services.
· And ten, each side stated in no uncertain terms that they reject violent extremism and terrorism.
As I said in the beginning, this is my assessment of where I see the parties basically saying the same thing, or almost the same thing. And I hope that we can start to build more common ground when next we meet, in Geneva. We will now have a short break in the negotiations, to allow the sides to prepare their more detailed positions on the issues raised already, and on all other aspects of the Geneva Communiqué.
I suggested we resume on the basis of an agreed agenda that we are going to prepare and send to them, that we meet on the 10th of February. The delegation of the Opposition agreed to this date. That of the Government said they needed to consult with Damascus first. For all the Syrians trapped in this terrible war, our work here will seem far too low. I understand that and they are right, but we are trying to overcome the very difficult issues that have led to this war and made it worse almost by the day. And this, unfortunately, takes time. Thank you very much.
Q. : Before your talk started today the Syrian Information Minister said that Syria, the Syrian regime would make no concessions either in this round of talk or in the next round. I was wondering if you think that will have any impact on the talks.
JSRS : I hope he will change his mind.
Q. : (unofficial translation from Arabic)You spoke about many points in common between the two sides but when the subject of establishing a transitional governing body was raised you asked the two sides questions about their respective visions regarding the formation of this body. What answers did you get from the two sides and can you build on those answers, as with regard to [inaudible] on the other points?
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) There is absolutely no doubt that the key positions are still very wide apart. I have tried to move forward on certain points, for example, that Syria is our people, and Syria, that the war must come to an end, that Syria must remain united, and so on. We tried to establish this basic common ground on which the parties can stand, if they want to move forward towards a solution.
Q. : Mr. Brahimi, I wonder if you can comment on things that happened outside Room XVI, like if you can confirm that a meeting has taken place between Mr. Mouallem and Mr. Jarba and if so, would that be one of the good elements you were talking about?
JSRS : It would have been, yes. As far as I know it didn’t happen.
Q. : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Brahimi, when you spoke about the statement that you just presented, you talked about one thing, namely, that the future of Syria will only be decided by the Syrian people, without external intervention. I would like to ask for your personal view of the statements that we have been hearing over the past days: about America arming the opposition; about the possibility or threat of foreign intervention if some issues are not resolved; and also about what Robert Ford said regarding the Syrian people. What is your reading of this? How may we interpret it?
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Ask the people who said it to interpret it for you.
Q.: (unofficial translation from Arabic) I should like to hear your opinion, if you please.
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) The Secretary-General of the United Nations and myself as well, we are always saying that the Syrian people at the end of the day will determine their own destiny and solve their problems. Is there external intervention? On one side, or on both sides? You know. We hope that the solution or the search for a solution will put an end to this intervention, God willing.
Q. : I’d like you to address the answer to this question not to me but to the Syrian people. After the ten days that we’ve had now in Switzerland and no real concrete progress, what would you say to the Syrian people now about what has been achieved or not achieved?
JSRS : This is a very, very good question and a difficult one. What I tell them is what I ended with. We haven’t made any progress, to speak of. As far as I know, there was an immense hope when this conference started. I understand that already people are starting to feel disappointed. What I can tell them is that, you know, things have gone so far down that, they’re not going to get out of the ditch over night. But there are a lot of people, first of all Syrians, I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the Syrians want an end and a rapid end to this horrible situation. I am also certain that a lot of people in the world also want that to happen and as far as I am concerned, as far as the United Nations is concerned, we will spare no effort to make it happen but, you know, the Syrian parties, those who have guns, have got also to think of their people.
Q. : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Brahimi, you have spoken in the past few days about making progress one half step at a time. Today, you seemed a little bit optimistic. You talked about ten points of an agreement. Yet, the two sides are not aware of it. When will the two sides realize it and how?
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) The two sides will talk to you about their positions. They don’t need me as a judge or a lawyer or a spokesman. I hope that nobody will think that I submitted these points because I think a solution is very close at hand, I am only saying that these very, very basic points are enough to begin with and to widen this ground, if there is good intent and political will.
Q.: (Unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Brahimi, the expression “ceasefire”, I don’t see it clearly written in the ten points. Over the past ten days, there have been 500 martyrs or people killed among the Syrian civilian population, notably because of barrel bombs that do not discriminate between combatants and civilians. For the Syrian citizen, when will a ceasefire come or at least an end to the use of barrel bombs against civilians, and under what item can this be included?
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) I think that we have talked a lot about a ceasefire or at least about reducing the level of existing violence. There is no doubt about the use of heavy weapons, barrel bombs and also all the acts that harm civilians. However, there is no commitment. I haven’t heard any commitment from any side at the moment to put an end to this.
Q. : Monsieur Brahimi, vous avez parlé de la participation de quarante États. Donc, quels sont les efforts fournis par ces États et quel est leur rôle dans l’arrêt de l’effusion du sang syrien, surtout les États qui supportent les groupes armés? Donc, y a-t-il des promesses qui ont été avancées par ces États qui supportent les groupes terroristes en Syrie? Et s’il n’y avait pas de telles promesses, alors quel est le rôle de ces quarante États ayant particip é à cette conférence? Merci.
JSRS : Ces quarante États ont été invités pour encourager les parties syriennes à trouver une solution à leurs problèmes. Oui, ces États n’ont pas la même attitude et il n’y a pas de doutes que certains d’entre eux sont en train de fournir des armes à celui-ci ou à celui-là. On espère que….Vous savez, ça, c’est l’œuf et la poule: qui est-ce qui commence? Je crois que les Syriens – c’est leur pays quand même – je crois que c’est eux qui devraient commencer à dire «ça suffit!»
Q. : Monsieur Brahimi, nous n’avons pas l’habitude de faire d’éloges, mais pour une fois, on vous remercie d’avoir choisi de tenir un point de presse chaque fois, après chaque séance. Cela nous a aidés à mieux distinguer entre les deux campagnes de propagande. Ma question : un des points faibles de ces négociations, c’est la faiblesse de la représentativité de l’opposition, de toute l’opposition, dans ce groupe qui est là. Ma question à vous: est-ce qu’il y a un mécanisme pour remédier à cela dans les séances qui vont venir? Est-ce qu’il y a la possibilité d’intégrer le reste? Comment, et ainsi de suite?
JSRS : Merci beaucoup. D’abord merci pour les mots aimables que vous avez eus pour moi. Ensuite, ça, c’est une question importante. Nous, nous n’avons aucun rôle direct. Nous, Nations Unies et moi qui travaille sur ce dossier, nous n’avons aucun rôle direct dans le choix des délégations. Mais nous avons dit depuis très, très longtemps, depuis qu’on a commencé à parler de la possibilité de cette réunion, nous avons dit que tout d’abord, les divisions qu’il y a en Syrie sont telles que ce n’est pas possible d’imaginer que tous ceux qui se disent opposants puissent être représentés à cette réunion. Mais nous avons toujours appelé très, très fort, avec insistance, à ce que ces oppositions se parlent entre elles et constituent ce que nous avons appelé une délégation crédible. Je crois que la délégation qui est ici est très consciente de cette réalité. Je crois qu’ils ont parlé à d’autres. Vous savez que le problème essentiel, c’est qu’ils n’ont pris leur décision de venir qu’à la toute dernière minute. Alors j’espère…enfin «j’espère»: ce n’est pas à moi de dire ce qu’ils vont faire, mais…j’ai l’impression qu’ils vont essayer d’élargir un petit peu la base de leur représentativité.
Q. : Sir, you mentioned about the Syrian Government delegation saying it need first to consult with Damascus before deciding whether or not to come back for your second round on February the 10th. I’m wondering if we should be worried about that, if you would expect that? If they mentioned this, you know, are they possibly not going to come back or is it just about your prepared agenda that they need to check with Damascus? Could you elaborate?
JSRS: They didn’t tell me that. They didn’t tell me that they are thinking of not coming. On the contrary, they said they will come but they needed to check with their capital, and I understand that the Foreign Minister is coming to talk to you. I am sure you will ask him that question.
Q. : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Brahimi, from here you are going to Munich to meet with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. What message will you give at that meeting in Munich and will you ask the two ministers to maybe put more pressure on the two sides to make concessions at the next round?
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) First, I congratulate you on the accurate information that you have. If you allow me, I will not provide you with the report that I will give them. However, this is a good opportunity for me to meet first with the Secretary-General and then the Secretary-General and I will meet with the two ministers. Wish us luck. Thank you very much.