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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following Informal Briefing to General Assembly on Syria

New York, 14 March 2014

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you.

I have just briefed the General Assembly on the situation in Syria.

The political process is in crisis.  It is not enough to have brought the parties to the conflict into the same room.  What matters most is what they do there.

Yet after two rounds of talks, neither side is displaying any will to compromise or any true awareness of the suffering of the Syrian people.

I strongly urge the Syrian Government and opposition to show the leadership, vision and flexibility needed to end this conflict.

I appeal to the Russian Federation and the United States, as the initiating States of the Geneva Conference on Syria, to take clear steps to re-energize the political process.

And I call for an end to the flow of arms and fighters that continues to fuel the violence.  All those who persist in seeking a military solution are making a political solution even more distant and elusive.

Let me also say a few words about the crisis in Ukraine.

I remain in regular contact with world leaders in an effort to find a peaceful solution in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter.

Yesterday, I met with Ukrainian Prime Minister [Arsiney] Yatsenyuk.  We discussed the need for all concerned to respect the law and for calm in an increasingly complex and threatening situation.  I reiterated our consistent message that the principles of the Charter -- including sovereignty and territorial integrity -- should be respected.

It is clear that we are at a crossroads.  If positions continue to harden and rhetoric continues to sharpen, there is great risk of a dangerous downward spiral.

The Security Council has met many times on the matter.  Yet the international community has not yet been able to de-escalate the situation.

I urge all concerned to avoid provocation and hasty decisions in the coming days.  The focus must be to engage in direct dialogue aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way towards a diplomatic solution.

Although it has so far proven elusive, the path towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis is still open.  Our duty is to seize it.  The United Nations will do its part to break the impasse.

Earlier this morning, I spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We discussed the need to work toward a durable and fair political solution.

We agreed to remain in close touch.

Finally, let me say a word about the Central African Republic.

I met yesterday with three of the country’s most distinguished religious leaders.  Together, we are sending a crucial message that the conflict in the Central African Republic is not about religion. What we are seeing is the manipulation of religious and ethnic affiliations for political purposes. 

I am hopeful that the people of the Central African Republic can step back from fear, and find their way back to the coexistence that had been the country’s longstanding tradition.

I reiterate my appeal for more troops and police to protect civilians, more aid to save lives and more support for the transitional authorities in their efforts to rebuild the state institutions.

I also urge the Security Council to act quickly on my recommendations for a United Nations peacekeeping operation.

I thank you for your attention.

Q: Thank you, Secretary-General. Are you worried that this visit of Mr. Brahimi to Iran is going to be another mistake from your office? Also, the Syrian Ambassador asked Mr. Brahimi, just right here, before you came, to “behave.” That is exactly what he said. Thank you.

SG: First of all, you should know that Iran is one of the important regional countries which can play an important role, including impressing upon the Syrian Authorities to come to the Geneva conference in a more constructive way. That is why it is important that Lakhdar Brahimi visits Iran. He has been visiting many countries in the region, and I understand that this is part of continuing negotiations, consultations, with countries in the region.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. Do you have a message to the people of Crimea especially as to the referendum that is being held on Sunday? Would you urge them to vote, not to vote? What would your message be?

SG: It is true that the situation and emotions have been hardened over the forthcoming referendum in Crimea. What I am concerned about is that, as I said, there should be no such hasty measures and decisions which may impact the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine. That has been my consistent message in accordance with the Charter provisions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said the political process is in crisis. Isn’t the right word actually “dead”, considering that the Parliament in Syria today has passed the law for elections and the Ambassador of Syria has just confirmed to me that elections will be held in July? Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi made it very clear that if these elections are held, the opposition would not talk to a delegation of the Government of Syria after renewing the presidency of Bashar Al Assad for another seven years. Isn’t it dead, not in crisis, actually?

SG: It is important that, we need to keep the Geneva process, continue. There is no alternative to political dialogue, political solution. A military operation cannot give any answer at this time. We have seen during the last three years - the parties have been resorting to military solutions, and these parties may seem to have an illusion that they can win over the other by military means. I have been warning, and consistently warning, that there is no military solution. There is only one viable solution - that is political dialogue. That is why Lakhdar Brahimi is continuing to engage with the parties. That is why I am urging again the Russian Federation and the United States, as initiating parties for this Geneva conference, to re-energise, re-focus, and do more political influence so that the two parties can engage in more constructive and genuine dialogue for the solution.

Q: The Ambassador of Syria just said that the elections in Syria, the Presidential elections, are none of your business practically. He said that it is an interference by your representative, Mr. Brahimi, in the internal affairs of Syria. But yet he claims that this does not impact their position, or the position of the United Nations that there should be a transitional government. Do you see compatibility between the two things, the elections and the TGB [transitional governing body], or do you agree with your Representative that holding the elections will torpedo the Geneva peace process. Please be very specific on that.  And the fact that you said that a military solution is no solution, but what will you do next in order to save the Geneva process, and would you like to call for a postponement of the elections, the presidential elections, through Russia or directly?

SG: We are in the middle of the Geneva process, whose main purpose is to establish a transitional governing body, which would have full executive power upon mutual consent. Then, any country can have their own elections, according to their own political milestones and road maps. But, particularly in the case of Syria, while we are now engaging in negotiations, the main purpose is to establish a transitional governing body. That depends upon who becomes the candidate for the presidency. That is what Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday to the Security Council. If and when President Assad becomes a candidate then it becomes very difficult in moving ahead this Geneva peace process where we have to help them to establish a transitional governing body. That is the main concern.

Q: Would postponement help? Would you like the Russians to play a role on that?

SG: I do not have any answer on that, whether they will postpone or not. But if anybody, like the Russian Government, or the Iranians, who may have influence, may impress upon the Syrian authorities so that they will be able to come with a more constructive attitude to the Geneva conference.

Thank you very much.