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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following Security Council Meeting and Consultations on Syria, accompanied by Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

New York, 29 July 2015

Good [afternoon], Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you, and I am also very happy to be here today with Mr. Staffan de Mistura, my Special Envoy for Syria.

As you have been following, I have just briefed the Security Council on the situation in Syria. 
I also finished participating in informal consultations for about one and a half hours.

I would like to make three points:

First, the situation continues to deteriorate in all respects.

The death toll is climbing, sectarianism and terrorism are spreading and flows of refugees have surpassed four million people.  This is an amazing number

Amid serious funding shortages and access difficulties, the United Nations continues to provide life-saving support to millions of people. 

Second, we must keep pressing for a political solution. That was the main purpose of our report to the Security Council today.

The price of continuing the Syrian war is simply too high.  In the name of humanity, there is no alternative to the negotiating table. 

My Special Envoy, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has also just briefed the Council on the extensive consultations he has carried out in recent months with a representative range of Syrian and non-Syrian stakeholders. 

He has presented to the Council a proposal to launch a step-by-step process to operationalize the Geneva Communiqué.  He has my full backing and I was encouraged by the many expressions of strong support by the Council members during our just-concluded discussions in the consultations room. 

Third, the countries of the region and the wider international community have key roles to play in reducing the violence and ending the conflict.

I urge them to stem the flows of weapons and foreign fighters, stop using the country as a proxy battleground and support the Special Envoy’s efforts. 

I also hope we can build on the political momentum that has been generated by the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, and use such a political dynamism that generated that agreement to promote a solution for Syria and regional stability in general.

Despite polarization and other obstacles, our moral and political obligation is to explore every possible opportunity to end the violence and begin a transition to a new Syria.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me briefly say a few words on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen.

More than 21 million people – that is more than 80 percent of the total population -- desperately need assistance to meet their basic needs, yet access remains extremely and unconscionably limited.

I am concerned about further escalation, persistent violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and the potentially destabilizing effects on the region.

Despite constant denunciation by the international community, the ground warfare and aerial bombardments have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed vital infrastructure. 
My Special Envoy, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is in the region continuing his efforts to resume a political process. 

I urge all parties involved in the Yemeni conflict, from inside and outside the country, to cease all military activities, and allow, unconditionally, humanitarian access to people in need, and resolve all differences through peaceful negotiations.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. Two quick questions: Is there any impact on what’s happening in Turkey with the U.S. now supporting its coalition, its airstrikes in Syria? Is that going to have any impact on this proposal? And could you give us some kind of a timeframe on how long these working groups are going to operate for? Are we talking about weeks, months or even longer?

SG: First of all, all the situations in the region are interrelated, therefore we need to have a comprehensive strategy and implement a comprehensive strategy. That is very important. As far as this situation concerning the Turkish and PKK issues, I received a call from Prime Minister [Ahmet] Davutoglu on Sunday explaining their position, and this is now being done in accordance with, according to the Turkish Government, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, in response to terrorist attacks.

I have already expressed my deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Turkey. I was again very much concerned at another loss of a serviceman in Turkey by PKK. I strongly condemn this.

What I am trying to say is that we need to have concerted and united and comprehensive dealing with this issue.
As far as a timeline is concerned, we are trying to do it as soon as possible, as soon as possible – even in September - so that all these four working groups will be operationalized as soon as possible.

Q: My question, Mr. Secretary-General: Do you feel that the Security Council now is more united? You know that they have been disunited throughout this crisis. Four vetoes have been cast when it comes to the Syrian crisis. Did you feel today that the Security Council is backing up Mr. de Mistura in his efforts, and if they are doing so, is there a draft resolution in the making or a Presidential Statement? How do you sense the Security Council, in regard to this issue?

SG: As I said earlier in my remarks I, together with Special Envoy de Mistura, am very much encouraged by such strong support by the members of the Council on what Mr. de Mistura has just proposed, and with my full backing. I made my full backing officially and publicly during an open Council meeting, and during our consultations, I again made it quite clear that he has my full backing.  I understand that Member States, under the leadership of the Presidency, is now working on what kind of support, in what way they are going to issue strong support on this matter. I leave it to the President of the Security Council, but it will come soon, I believe.

Q: Secretary-General, can I ask you about Iran? You talked about the Iran nuclear deal. What role could Iran now play in the discussions on Syria?  And if I may ask about another country where Mr. de Mistura was previously responsible: The Afghan Government says Mullah Omar is dead. What is your reaction?

SG: About this Iranian nuclear deal just concluded between E3+3 and Iran, the whole international community was very much encouraged, including the United Nations. In fact, I have spoken to all the eight negotiating ministers in person and I issued my own statement and I have fully encouraged [this]. First of all, it is important that this Iranian nuclear deal must be fully and faithfully implemented. My message to them is that when there is unity of purpose and solidarity shown by, particularly the P5 - the permanent members of the Security Council – and the European Union and all the actors, there is nothing which we cannot do.

My message was: Why don’t you use this politically created great momentum to address all the issues, particularly including the situation in Syria and Yemen and all other issues? There is clearly a very important role to be played by Iran. Iran is a crucially important player in the region. Therefore my expectation, and when I spoke to Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif, and also the Ambassador here, that we expect that Iran now plays a very important role and a very constructive role in addressing many issues, including this one.

Q: Thank you so much. On Monday, your Spokesperson’s office issued a statement about the PKK and Turkey and asked for a return of dialogue. Did you talk about the possibility of dialogue between the PKK and Turkey with the Turkish Prime Minister on Sunday?

SG: I know that this action taken by Turkey was done in accordance with the UN Charter, as a way of exercising their self-defence. That is what has been explained to me by Prime Minister Davutoglu. And also, I have expressed our strong condemnation about this terrorist attack. Now, about the possibility of resolving this issue through dialogue, as a matter of principle, the United Nations and myself take the position that all pending issues, whatever grievances there may be, should be resolved through dialogue in a peaceful manner. But again, I would strongly advise and urge the parties concerned to resolve all these pending issues through dialogue.

Q: Thank you for the briefing. A follow-up: Putting aside the domestic issues on Turkey, do you and Mr. de Mistura believe that the increased U.S. Turkey bombings and approach will bring people to the bargaining table? Is this moving the ball forward? Some people are calling it a game changer on a political solution.

SG: What we need to understand very seriously is that in the course of four and a half years of this Syrian crisis, this current situation has provided a perfect breeding ground for terrorism and extremism. So now, countering terrorism and extremism has surfaced and emerged as one of the very important issues at this time in addressing comprehensively the Syrian crisis. Therefore, it is important that the international community should also be united in addressing this issue.  Of course, you know, we first try to implement and operationalise the Geneva Communiqué; that is what we are now doing - trying to resolve through peaceful and political solutions. At the same time we have to provide humanitarian assistance, and address terrorism and extremism. For your information, in November, I am going to present to the General Assembly my plan of action to address countering extremism.

Thank you very much.


Off-the-Cuff on 29 July 2015