Briefing to the Security Council by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, 30 August 2017
I last briefed the Security Council after the 7th round of the Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, which concluded on the 14th of July. Since then, we have been active in a range of diplomatic efforts and continuing contacts. I have recently held high-level consultations in Tehran and Paris, and my Deputy Special Envoy, Ambassador Ramzy, was earlier in Moscow and is currently in Saudi Arabia. Contacts are continuing with other actors as we seek to lay the ground for further rounds of talks that bring the parties into a genuine negotiation.
Let me now elaborate on how I assess the situation at present, and what we think we can expect in the period ahead – in de-escalating violence, in combatting terrorism, and in advancing the political process.
While undoubtfully there is still violence in Syria, the trend of de-escalation and the operationalization of de-escalation zones is indeed continuing. We are encouraged by the calm in the southwest, and the opening of a trilateral Amman Monitoring Centre by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and Jordan. Meanwhile, following a series of agreements with armed groups, including with the active support of Egypt and the Russian Federation, we have seen a significant reduction of violence in parts of the Ghouta de-escalation zone, although not in all of it. In Homs, we note that the Russian Federation's efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement are continuing. We are worried about reports of shelling and airstrikes north of Homs city, which we believe require the guarantors’ urgent attention.
Meantime, the situation in Idlib is complex and complicated and needs close attention. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham – or as we still continue to call it, the former al-Nusra, a terrorist group identified by this Council – has seized territory from other armed opposition groups in this area. Its stated intention is to set up some kind of new Al-Nursa dominated administration. It is very important that Astana guarantors, in liaison with the Government and armed opposition groups, come to a speedy agreement to operationalize the de-escalation zone in Idlib. This will also require a very important element: protecting civilians; but that will be addressed I am sure by my colleague, Steven O’Brien.
As efforts to combat terrorism continue, we are seeing ISIL/Daesh’s area of control being constantly shrunk – something I think everybody welcomes in the ongoing fight against terrorism. While the Government of Syria is proceeding towards Deir Ez-Zor, the Lebanese army has advanced against ISIL/Daesh on the Lebanese side of the border. The Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition continue their efforts to eliminate ISIL from Raqqa, while the Russian Federation is supporting the Government of Syria in proceeding towards Deir Ez-Zor.
And while military operations are underway, rapid, safe, and sustained humanitarian access remains indeed essential, as well as the work for the release of the arbitrarily detained persons, and to shed light on the fate of the thousands of disappeared. All parties must also do their utmost to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure while this is happening. I am sure my colleague and friend, Under-Secretary-General O’Brien – who I would like to thank personally for his immense efforts on Syria – will further address these issues in his briefing on the humanitarian aspects. I also want to thank UNMAS for its continued readiness to support humanitarian demining efforts.
The developments I have described are the result of a very timely process of prioritization and cooperation among key external players, and a realization among internal players of the need to compromise. The challenge ahead will be to extend this spirit into the political realm. This requires clear and new thinking from the opposition and the Government, and enhanced international cooperation.
Let me start with the opposition. The opposition invitees to the Geneva talks – i.e. the HNC, the Cairo Platform and the Moscow Platform, those specified in SCR 2254 – have important and urgent work to do to develop common negotiating positions and strengthen their unity. It is high time. I briefed you last time on progress we have made with them in two rounds of UN technical talks in Geneva and nearby – there was important substantive progress, which should now be used as a springboard for further efforts. Given that many developments are taking place elsewhere between the actors of the opposition, we have refrained from holding further UN technical talks to give time for these developments to unfold and progress. But time must not be lost. Elevating common technical commonalities to the political level remains an imperative.
I am grateful to Saudi Arabia for taking the initiative for a new, more inclusive meeting of the opposition – a Riyadh 2 conference as it is called, including with the hosting of a preparatory meeting last week. Our technical work and political support will be important contributions to these efforts. We will work closely with Saudi Arabia and all who have traditionally supported or engaged with the opposition in this pursuit. I recall in this respect that 2254 does encourage me to be active in any finalization effort in this regard.
As we counsel fresh thinking and initiative on the part of the opposition, we may also need to do the same with the Government. The Government has indicated that it would be prepared to intensify its engagement with a unified opposition and with clarity on principles that govern the political process. But there are times when strong public signals are sent that indicate an exclusively military approach, and a dismissal of the prospects of any meaningful political negotiation.
However, we have seen too many instances in other conflicts where, despite military advances, a government has not been able to turn those gains into a sustainable post-conflict situation, due to unmet political grievance and lack of genuine inclusion of all in the future of the country. That’s why we are convinced that both the Government and the Opposition should have a genuine interest now to engage in a serious discussion.
Ultimately, it will only be Syrians who determine the future of their country. But an internationally supported and inclusive political process will be required to lay the foundation for a sustainable future, and for genuine reconstruction.
It is in the profound interests of the long-suffering people of Syria that the government and the opposition realize that the time has come to engage in a more serious and concrete negotiation.
In this regard, I would like to note that we are not only focused on the government and opposition, but are listening to the full range of Syrian stakeholders.
Immediately after the 7th round, our OSE Civil Society Support Room completed regional consultations in Beirut, Gaziantep and Amman. These discussions involved over 120 actors and networks stemming from the Syrian civil society, establishing the foundations for future consultations in Geneva. It is becoming increasingly clear from these consultations that regardless of their perceived differences, all Syrians are impatient for the conflict to end and the political process to deliver. We will continue to encourage and facilitate their collective work.
Let me also update you on the Women Advisory Board. Following its regular contributions to the work that was done during the 7th round of intra-Syrian talks, the 12-member board is currently undergoing a rotation exercise to ensure continuous diversity of perspectives.
I count on the continued support of the Women Advisory Board to advise me and my team to ensure the meaningful representation of diverse women’s voices and women’s rights perspectives in the political process as we move forward. And we hope to see the same, both in the delegation of the opposition and of the Government.
So, how do we bring all of this activity together into one common effort in the coming months to genuinely advance a political solution? What is the path forward?
First, Russia, Iran and Turkey and others – including the United States of America, Egypt and Jordan – will need to keep actively working, as they have been doing, on de-escalation. The next Astana meeting, now scheduled for 14 and 15 September, should help to address these matters, and I and my team will be there to help.
Second, it will be important that Saudi Arabia and all who have influence with the opposition focus as they are currently doing on one plan to foster the cohesion and realism of the opposition. We shall on our side be actively involved in that too, while, let me reiterate, standing ready for my office to convene further technical talks to support what Saudi Arabia has been trying to do in unifying the opposition.
Third, it will be vital for those with influence on the Government of Syria to [urge it to] assess the situation carefully and signal a genuine readiness for dialogue and inclusion on the political future of Syria.
Fourth, I appreciate the continued engagement and support of the European Union, and view the meeting it intends to host during the General Assembly as an opportunity to address future resilience and stabilization efforts and support the humanitarian needs of civilians.
Bearing all this in mind, Mr. President, it is my intention to re-convene the formal intra-Syrian talks in Geneva later in October. This is designed to give time for the dynamics I have just described to reach a further stage of maturity. It is my hope that both the Syrian Government and the opposition will come to Geneva then to engage in formal negotiations.
This is a time for realism and focus, for shifting from the logic of war to that of negotiation, and for putting the interests of the Syrian people first. If I could identify one thing above all that can make the difference, it will be a sense of unity of purpose internationally with clear priorities and common goals.
We need to find creative ways to proceed along the path of peace that this Council, with SCR 2254, has long sought to advance. With that, and our common encouragement to the Syrians in this regard, we can make a real difference in this tragic conflict. I also look forward to the occasion of the forthcoming General Assembly to see further occasions and initiatives related to an accelerated political process in Syria.
Let me summarize so that we have on our radar screen some points that may be helping us to focus. First, our Security Council meeting and your own deliberations. Second, Astana is due to take place, and we want them to succeed and look at additional de-escalation areas. Then the opportunity that all of us will have at the General Assembly to promote and push for discussions, initiatives, related to an accelerated political process for Syria. Then, in October, we hope to see – and we will be working and pushing for it – that the Riyadh 2 meeting will contribute to produce a common platform among the oppositions, hoping meanwhile that the Government will also be helped to realize that there is now a need for a genuine and concrete political negotiation.
Meanwhile, we hope that Deir Ez-Zor and Raqqa will be moving towards liberation. Hence, there will be even more urge for a sustainable political solution so that Daesh will not reappear again like it did in Iraq.
Late October: Geneva talks. This time, we hope, serious ones, concrete ones. We are planning for two weeks in a row. That is basically what we are seeing on our radar screen. Things may happen to support the political process, to stop it, to complicate it or to move it forward, but we need a to have a common vision.
Thank you, Mr. President.
30 August 2017