Highlights of the Press Briefing by Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesperson for United Nations and Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan
The following are highlights of today’s briefing by Ahmad Fawzi, the Spokesperson for United Nations and Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, to the Geneva accredited media.
Spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi: Good morning everyone. I just thought that I would come down and answer your questions because I was getting a lot of queries over the past few days that indicate that perhaps we in the Joint Special Envoy’s office are not communicating as often and as clearly as you would like, so I would like to settle that once and for all, and set us on the right track. So this is a briefing to clarify issues that may be in your minds about the Joint Special Envoy’s mission. I propose that this briefing lasts for thirty minutes.
I don’t have any particular big news to give you today. What you do know already is that the Joint Special Envoy will be briefing the General Assembly today at 16:00 Geneva time, 10:00 in New York. The running order is as follows: the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will brief the General Assembly first, followed by the President of the General Assembly, followed by the Joint Special Envoy on the situation in Syria.
Let us open the floor to questions.
Question: What will happen exactly on 10 April, as we are hearing two stories, from the United Nations and the Syrian side?
Spokesperson: What we expect on 10 April is that the Syrian Government will have completed its withdrawal of military units from populated centres, that it will have stopped moving any military units into cities, and that we begin a 48-hour period during which there will be a complete cessation of all forms of violence by all parties, within 48 hours. That includes both the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government. So the clock starts ticking on 10 April for both sides to cease all forms of violence.
I know that it is slightly, perhaps, confusing to some, but it is very clearly specified that the Government should implement point 2a, b and c, which is: cease troop movements towards populated centres, no use of heavy weapons in population centres, and begin pull-back of military concentrations in and around population centres. Then 2d kicks in, which is: cessation of all forms of violence by all parties. And we are choosing our words very carefully here: cessation of all forms of violence by all parties with an effective UN supervision mechanism in place. That is what the mission is doing in Damascus today. You are all aware of the fact that the Joint Special Envoy has sent a planning team to Damascus, headed by Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, which is arriving today in Damascus - some are arriving from Geneva and some are arriving from New York, so they have different arrival times - but they will all be assembling in Damascus today to begin discussing with the Syrian authorities the modalities of the eventual deployment of this UN supervision and monitoring mission.
Question: When do you expect this United Nations force to be ready, and secondly, about President Assad, are your continuing contacts with his regime giving you any indication that he is likely actually to honour the commitment he has signed?
Spokesperson: On the first question, DPKO has already started the process of soliciting troops from Member States, and as you know, that is a process that takes time, and therefore we thought we would start as soon as possible in the hope that we can constitute this supervision and monitoring mission as quickly as possible. I cannot give a date of when it will be in full force, but we are going to start incrementally; we will start deploying incrementally, those troops that are ready to move in, will move in, as soon as we will have a Security Council resolution. You need a Security Council resolution to deploy the full mission. At the moment the team that is going in is a planning team. But as soon as we have a Security Council resolution, the clock will start ticking on deployment of the actual mission.
On your second question, the Syrian Government has been cooperating with the Joint Special Envoy since their agreement to the six-point plan, and we expect them to continue, and to abide by the pledges they have made. I can’t go any further on that point.
Question: There are a lot of analyses about the Syrian regime plan to ceasefire while the small decentralized groups who are not in real communication with the Free Syrian Army in Turkey will not ceasefire, and so the regime will actually benefit from this from one side and later on the clashes will start again. So the 10 April is a good timing for ceasing fire from all the armed groups, but is it something that actually can happen?
Spokesperson: We hope so. We have a commitment from the Syrian side. We have no doubt that we have this commitment. They have agreed to the six-point plan and they have agreed to the 10 April deadline. We are working with all factions of the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, both inside and outside, and we are receiving positive signals from the opposition that once the Government abides by the 10 April deadline, they too will lay down their arms.
Question: Soliciting troops from Member States sounds quite big – how big do you envisage the monitoring force to have to be?
Spokesperson: Whatever the size of a force, we need Member States. The UN doesn’t have, and never has had, a standing army. We depend on troop-contributing countries (TCCs), to provide us with troops, whether it is for a mission of 20, 200 or 2,000. And we need their explicit permission, even if we are moving troops – as we have suggested in the past recent weeks – redeploying from existing missions in the region.
I have read in the press the figure of 200 to 250, and that is not very far off.
Question: On behalf of the association of correspondents here, we would like to thank you for your presence today. And also, would be coming to the regular press briefing, even if there is nothing new to announce, because we might wish to ask you questions?
Spokesperson: I appreciate the invitation, and understand that even if I say ‘no comment’, that might in itself constitute news for you. I appreciate your invitation, but really this is a very delicate process of mediation that Mr. Annan is undertaking. He does not intend to mediate through the media, even though those two words are very close to each other. We cannot negotiate publicly. There are times when I’m sure you will understand – and we beg your indulgence – when he thinks that it might be counter-productive to say things about the process. We need to work with both sides. This is a very private diplomatic process where one word can tip the balance one side or another. He needs to marshal all of his mediation powers and his experience, and focus, and that is why he is not doing any interviews either. We have to understand those parameters. But I thank you and I will try to come as often as possible.
Question: What happens next if on 10 April the Government does not honour its commitments?
Spokesperson: That is a very big question, the ‘what if’ question, and I would rather refer you to Member States on that issue. You have heard Member States say that this is the last chance. President Medvedev in Moscow, for example, said this is the last chance before Syria descends into a bloody protracted civil war. You have heard diplomats in New York say we are watching very closely and they will be judged by their actions. You have heard diplomats in New York say there will be consequences. So I suggest you take that up with Member States.
Question: Has the Syrian Government already begun troop withdrawals from the cities, or do you expect all of this to magically occur on the 10th, that is the troops vanish and there is peace in these cities? Also do you think that the Russians and the Chinese will be on board with the other members of the Security Council in ratifying the deployment of peacekeepers?
Spokesperson: We don’t expect anything to happen magically. We expect things to happen methodically, in a disciplined manner. And yes, they have told us that they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas.
So far the Russians and the Chinese have been on board, and have been extremely supportive of the Annan six-point plan. He has been to Moscow and Beijing, and they have made very strong statements in support of his mission, and they have been extremely cooperative in the Security Council. As has the entire Security Council. Mr. Annan is extremely appreciative of the unity that he has been seeing in the Council.
Question: Do you expect the ceasefire to be completely implemented within 48 hours after April 10?
Spokesperson: Yes, that is correct; there will be a specific time, within 48 hours of the 10th.
Question: Do you have any signs that, as the Russians have claimed, the Syrians have begun their withdrawal, and you said they have told you that, do you have any information confirming that?
Spokesperson: We have information from the Syrian Government that they began withdrawing troops from some areas and we are in the process of verification.
Question: I understand that in the plan of Mr Kofi Annan there is a political process after the implementation of all of the other proposals which are related to troops and the ceasefire and so on. Has Mr Kofi Annan started to work on this political process in points, and if he discussed that with the Syrian Government, and when could this political process start in case of success in implementing all the other proposals?
Spokesperson: That’s a very good question because the cessation of violence in all its forms by all parties is not an end in itself. It will signal the beginning of a political process. In fact Mr. Annan has already began not only thinking about it but working towards a formula that would be acceptable to all, which I can’t go into now, but he and his team have been in touch with the opposition and with the Government, as part of the six-point agreement that we stop the killings, and we stop the violence and we start talking. That both sides come to the table and launch a political dialogue that will meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. Let’s never forget that the objective of the mission, at the end of the day, is the welfare of the Syrian people. He is very keen to start a dialogue with all parties involved in this crisis to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Question: Could you clarify that the Syrian Government has told Mr Kofi Annan that they have begun withdrawal from some cities: have they specifically told you the places, or any timeline, or any plan on how they will complete this withdrawal by the 10 April deadline?
Spokesperson: They have specified three cities: Deraa, Idlib and Zabadani. And the deadline has been and remains the 10 April for the completion of this part of the process.
Question: You said that you are in the process of verification of what the Government is telling you that they are beginning the withdrawal of the troops. What are the ways you are using for this verification, and how do you plan to verify from now until 10 April? Does the team that is arriving today in Damascus have a role in the verification process?
Spokesperson: I really cannot go into details on the verification process, but what I can tell you is that we are looking at a range of sources and cross-checking that information carefully. The planning team now on the ground will not participate in any verification activities.
Question: Briefly, what is Mr. Annan going to brief the General Assembly on this afternoon?
Spokesperson: Mr. Annan will be one of three briefers today, after the Secretary-General, and the President of the General Assembly. You can expect that he will more or less brief on what he briefed the Security Council on Monday. There may have been some developments between Monday and Thursday, but it will more or less be what he told the Council on Monday. Of course his mission was created by a General Assembly Resolution, so he intends to brief them every now and then, and they were keen to hear from him, he will be talking about his contacts and the developments in his mission since his last briefing on Monday. I will try and send you copies of his statement after the briefing, which is public and will be webcast here in Room III.
Question: Is the deadline 00:00 or 24:00 on 10th April?
Spokesperson: That is an interesting question. I will ask our military planners and get back to you. I will send it round to everyone.
Question: My question is related to the public announcements of Qatar and Saudi Arabia about giving weapons and salaries to the Free Syrian Army. Are they now part of the commitment of ceasing fire, and also regulating the military actions of the armed groups in Syria?
Spokesperson: They have publicly supported Mr. Annan’s mission and they have publicly endorsed his six-point plan. Therefore they are supportive of the cessation of violence principle and deadline. The Special Envoy has repeatedly said that he needs the support of the international community if he is to succeed in this mission. That means the entire international community and especially key countries with influence on the parties.
Question: Has access to humanitarian aid now been granted?
Spokesperson: This is a very good question and I would like to look into that further before answering you. But yes, our colleagues who deal with humanitarian issues are on the ground working with the Syrian authorities to gain access. I will do some more checking about it and inform you.
Question: At the moment Syria is a pariah state, there are sanctions against it, there are other countries sending arms to the opposition groups. There are scores of Government officials who are potentially going to be up in front of the International Criminal Court wanted for crimes against humanity. Can you tell us how does Kofi Annan propose to return Syria to normality as a functioning country? Assuming the ceasefire holds, it’s very difficult to see Assad still in charge as a functioning leader. What is the plan for the rest of the year after 10 April?
Spokesperson: The plan is to implement the six-point plan. That includes a political dialogue with all parties to meet the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people. This is a Syrian-led process and revolves around the welfare of the Syrian people and it is up to the Syrian people to decide what kind of country they want, and what kind of leadership they want, in the future.
Question: You said, when we last met in this room, that Mr. Annan was having talks with the Iranian authorities to visit the country. How are those conversations going on?
Spokesperson: They are going very well.
Question: Do you have already a date for the visit?
Spokesperson: Yes I do. Mr. Annan will be visiting Tehran on 11th April. Thank you very much.