Joint press encounter with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Kofi A. Annan, Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria, and Nabil El-Araby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, following Security Council consultations on Syria [unofficial transcript]
New York, 7 June 2012
SG: Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for waiting and for your patience.
I am pleased to be joined by our Joint Special Envoy, H.E. Kofi Annan, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, H.E. Nabil El-Araby.
As you know, we briefed the General Assembly this morning and we have just concluded our briefing session with the Security Council this afternoon. We also had an in-depth trilateral consultations luncheon. Today it has been a Syria day as far as we are concerned. I have been spending almost ten hours today, starting from early this morning, without any other programme.
As you are already aware, the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. Today’s reports of yet another massacre in Al-Qubeir underscore the horrifying reality on the ground.
How many more times have we to condemn them, and how many more ways must we say that we are outraged?
The Syrian people are bleeding. They are angry. They want peace and dignity. Above all, they all want action.
The three of us agree: Syria can quickly go from a tipping point to a breaking point. The danger of a full-scale civil war is imminent and real, with catastrophic consequences for Syria and the region.
We see little evidence that the regime is complying with its commitments under the six-point plan endorsed by the Security Council more than two months ago.
The opposition is hardening and turning increasingly to arms. Terrorists are exploiting the chaos. Gross human rights violations are multiplying.
The killing we have witnessed in recent weeks is indicative of a pattern that may amount to crimes against humanity. The confrontations in certain areas of the country have taken on the character of an internal conflict, subject to international humanitarian law and possible war crimes prosecution.
The international community must recognize all these realities – and must act now.
The Annan plan remains at the centre of our efforts. We continue to support it.
At the same time, in view of the deteriorating situation I would welcome further international discussions on the way forward.
The upcoming G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, is an important opportunity. I will be there and I expect key stakeholders to take advantage of this gathering to discuss the crisis in its full depth and breadth.
No one can predict how the situation in Syria will evolve. We must be prepared for any eventuality; we must be ready to respond to many possible scenarios.
At the request of the Security Council, I will soon present a variety of options for the way ahead.
It is up to the members of the Council to find common cause. We are very much encouraged by such a strong commitment and unity of voices in condemning current recent massacres. They were all passionate in speaking out for the necessity of taking action. But let me say here that we need bolder action. We must speak with one voice … we must deliver a clear and unmistakable message:
The violence must stop, on both sides. We need a peaceful transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.
In all this, unity is essential.
I thank you very much, and I would like to invite the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
Mr. El-Araby: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. First of all, I would like to subscribe fully to what the Secretary-General has said. All the points that he made are fully in agreement with the mandate I have from the League of Arab States, when the foreign ministers met in Doha on the 2nd of June. They have asked that I convey to the Security Council their deep concern that ‘enough is enough’. We cannot accept any more killing of innocent people, whether on this side or that side. They are all Syrians, and the fighting has to stop.
The League of Arab States has, starting last July, pressed on the Syrian leadership the need to stop the fighting. Nothing has happened. We have tried many things, including deploying observers. Nothing has happened again. Now it is in the hands of the United Nations. The Security Council is the organ vested with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and it is up to the Security Council to take action now.
The message I brought with me is calling for the Security Council to apply the provision of Chapter VII relating to Article 41 in particular, that is to say, all kinds of pressure, not use of force, all kinds of pressure should be exerted and exerted now. Fighting has to stop. We cannot let down the Syrian people any more.
SG: Would you like to say some words?
Mr. Annan: Thank you very much. I think all has been said. Let’s take the questions.
Q: Thank you so much. Mr. Kofi Annan, many are describing your plan in the Middle East as dead and if not, even here they are saying it’s on life support. What new plans, what new ideas do you have to inject in this wonderful six-point plan that is not being implemented to resuscitate it, besides pleading and asking and cajoling the Syrians to comply?
And Mr. Secretary-General, what steps have you taken to comply with the request of the Security Council on 27th of May through the press statement to investigate fully, independently and transparently the killing in El-Houleh?
And Mr. Secretary-General, did you find any reaction from the Security Council concerning your request to have a timetable for the implementation and to protect Syrians in Syria? Thank you so much.
Mr. Annan: You managed to get three questions into one!
Let me say that I’m not sure whether it is the plan that is dead or it is the implementation that is lacking. This is what the Council has been discussing this afternoon – what needs to be done to push implementation and what will be the consequences if implementation is not carried forward. I think the plan has been endorsed by everyone, and I’ve also said that if this plan is not working or if we decide it is not the way to go, we should be looking at options. But as long as we all agree that the plan has merit, the question is: How do you get the Syrian Government to perform, to implement it, even at this late hour? This is what the Council is in the process of discussing, and I am not going to do their work. Thank you.
SG: Through our briefings to the General Assembly and the Security Council today, what we have sensed is that all Member States, without exception, they are united in speaking out with one voice that all violence must stop. And they have expressed strong support for Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. They are united. And during our discussions with the Security Council members, many Member States have proposed an indicative list of measures which should be taken as a way to keep sustained pressure to the Syrian authorities as a way to stop, first, the violence and protect human rights and commence political negotiation, reflecting the aspirations of the Syrian people.
As for the detailed measures which may be taken by the Security Council, upon the recommendation of the League of Arab States and upon the recommendation of the Joint Special Envoy, this is up to the Member States, but having participated in such a long consultation with the Security Council members, all three of us, I believe that the Security Council will take certain actions.
You should also realise that it is rare that all three of us get together at one place. Of course, we have been engaging in trilateral telephone consultations, or bilateral consultations, but the three of us have briefed the General Assembly today, and also the Security Council. This is a day for Syrian crisis resolution, and I am very much encouraged by that.
Mr. El-Araby: Very briefly, I delivered the same message to the Assembly and Council. There is a need for action, and action now. I listened to very encouraging statements. Period. We will see how the Council is going to act.
Q: My question is to the Joint Special Envoy and the Secretary-General. There has been a lot of talk about a contact group. Could you tell us what that means? Is it something to bolster the plan to get all the parties, interested parties, together? And, has there been some progress on appointing an interlocutor for negotiations between the opposition and the Syrian Government?
Mr. Annan: Let me start with the contact group. There are discussions going on about the possibility of establishing such a group. And the group would include countries with real influence on the situation, countries that can influence either side, the Government of Syria and the opposition.
If they could come together and look at the problems in a coldly realistic manner…so, we are facing difficulties on the ground, we have common interests in the Middle East and in Syria, what do we do to get this plan implemented and if it’s not this plan, what do we do to bring about peace and political settlement to ensure that the region doesn’t blow up? I shared with the Council something a foreign minister in the Middle East told me…he said ‘Syria is not Libya. It will not implode. It will explode and explode beyond its borders and cause real problems in the region that nobody wants’. So, if this group can really look at the issues and say, ‘let’s cooperate’ and probably suggest a roadmap for the Syrians to consider and work really to steer everybody in the same direction. With those with influence on the Government using their influence, and those who can influence the opposition helping steer things forward, we may make progress.
The other question you asked about the second part of your question, about the empowered interlocutor, we are not there yet. But it will have to be done. The Government of Syria, and President Assad has indicated to me personally, that when I ask him to do that he will appoint an empowered interlocutor. I haven’t done that because we are not there yet.
SG: I do not have much to add to what Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan has said about this proposal. I can tell you that this is a very valuable idea, worth our serious consideration. All these are [at a] very early stage. There are many ideas in terms of participants, or in terms of venue, or in terms of objective, but as far as objective is concerned, this is to strongly support Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s mediating mandate by the Security Council, then also to provide some ground, first of all to stop all violence, and on the basis of that, stakeholders, very key stakeholders, in limited numbers, can engage in a political transition.
Mr. El-Araby: I think I should make a comment on that also. Any meeting, any contact group – call it what you want – that would be action-oriented and would lead to results, results that will cause the violence to stop, should be welcomed. That is the criteria I have in mind, to be action-oriented, and to lead to concrete steps to stop the violence.
Q: Mr. Annan, everybody is talking about the looming civil war that could happen, but in many ways, it’s actually already a regional conflict, isn’t it, because you have so many weapons and fighters crossing over to fight in this conflict? From your perspective, where are we now? Are we in a regional conflict? And does really the pressure at this point to resolve this crisis need to be focused on the international players in the region more to exert pressures on the internal players, or is it still a conflict that you think can be resolved from within?
Mr. Annan: You are right, that it’s a very complex and a difficult situation. Given the level of violence and the actors on the ground, you could say we are drifting, if we are not already in a sort of a civil war. All efforts are being made to ensure that if it were to become a full-blown civil war, it doesn’t spread to the neighbours. But your second part of your question: I agree with you, and this is why the contact group, that you cannot resolve it by just focusing on the players inside, you need to have the regional and international players be involved. They have to be part of the solution.
Q: Mr. Annan, you’ve spoken very eloquently, very passionately today, about how Syria is on the edge of the abyss. I wonder what you would say tonight to the Syrian people. Should they, even at this late stage, really believe in diplomacy, in your peace plan?
Mr. Annan: Let me answer your question this way. First of all, why diplomacy, why the effort to resolve the issue peacefully? We are doing it because of our concern for the Syrian people. We should put the welfare of the Syrian people at the centre of everything we do. I believe that any further militarization of the conflict will lead to disastrous consequences. By your implication, you believe that maybe a more assertive, robust action would be better than diplomacy. Maybe. But the Council has given me a mandate to try to work with the parties to resolve this issue peacefully. If they decide to go another route, that is their right, but up to now, that decision has not been taken and what I will say to the Syrian people is that they have gone through a lot over the past 16 months and the international community, through the Security Council, is trying to do whatever it can to help resolve the issue peacefully and stop the killing. The whole idea is to stop the killing, the brutality, the unacceptable human rights abuses. It takes time, but we hope not too much time.
Q: Mr. Annan and Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Mr. El-Araby, you’ve spoken about unity because everyone backed the six-point plan, but yet listening to the General Assembly, the divisions were the same that they have been for the last few months. Did you come any closer in private consultation, and also when you talk about regional players, does that mean Iran, Hezbollah, so forth?
SG: I have been always emphasizing the unity of Member States, particularly the Security Council. Today, I was emphasizing that when the Security Council is united, we have seen such huge impact and influence in addressing many regional conflict issues. Last April, the Security Council [passed] two important resolutions – 2043 [and] 2042 – allowing the deployment of the UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] mission there, and they have also issued a very strong statement when the El Houleh massacre happened. Today’s discussions, consultations, with Security Council members convinced me that the Security Council members are very seriously engaged. Many Member States have spoken out very passionately and with determined will to address this issue. I believe that the Syrian people have suffered far too long and too much. Too many people have been killed needlessly. This situation we have to stop. In that regard, the unity is essential and the whole international community must be united. At the same time, I urge the members of the opposition forces – they should also be united in delivering their desires, their aspirations to see a democratic and peaceful Syria. Just trying to disturb the role of the United Nations mission and trying to kill other civilians does not help at this time. Therefore, all the violence both by government forces and opposition forces must stop and engage with Kofi Annan so that this political negotiation can start. That’s my message.
Mr. El-Araby: Well, the question of unity. The unity was demonstrated, as the [United Nations] Secretary-General has said, [through resolutions] 2042 and 2043. We expect and hope that if the matter were put to the Council that we will see another manifestation of this unity. But the question also moved around to who should be involved in such action? And here we have to analyze well the situation. It’s internal. The problem in Syria is internal. The people went to the street calling for democracy, liberty, as they did in Tunisia, in Libya, and in my country, Egypt, and in Yemen. They all were asking for their rights. They were met with violence and that’s how it started. So it’s internal. The origin is internal but to resolve it, you need [to put] pressure on everyone. And that will not come unless the Security Council acts together in tandem to ensure that [there is] enough pressure on all of the parties. You have to take all the facts into consideration; you cannot be like an ostrich that puts our head in the sand and not see what’s around us. If you’re going to have a contact group and you want to resolve [the situation], get everyone involved and go ahead and try to do it, but it has to be done soon and action should come out of that.
Mr. Annan: I agree with the Secretaries-General that we had a stimulating discussion with the Council this afternoon and the question of unity was very much on the table and I was suggesting that the unity that exists will need to be lifted to a new level. We need a new level of unity, not just among the Council members, but among other governments in the region and elsewhere who have influence on the parties working together, working with the same objective. The Council obviously has to take the lead and whatever else comes out of it. The Council will have a role to play, so I would want to see the Council, as one says, as one team with one mission. But it cannot be left to the Council alone. There are other governments who have influence and they need to use that influence and work with the government for us to stop the bloodshed and help the Syrian people and help them escape this nightmare they are living.
Q: Mr. Annan, do you envision a political solution with President Assad in power, and do you see a positive role for Iran in this solution if it is possible? Thank you.
Mr. Annan: The whole idea is to get to a political transition, and the Syrian people will have to decide their future: the future political dispensation, they have to decide how they are governed and who governs them, and I think that it should be part of the eventual settlement that we are looking at. And the other thing I would want to say is the membership of the group, the contact group that was referred to, all these issues are at a very early stage yet and is under consultation, but I think Iran, as an important country in the region, I hope will be part of the solution.