20 December 2013

Transcript of press conference by Joint Special Representative for Syria (JSRS) Lakhdar Brahimi

JSRS: Good afternoon everyone. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very, very much for your patience.  We just finished the last segment of our meetings today.  That is, as you know, we met first in the morning and the beginning of the afternoon in the trilateral format with the Russians and the Americans, and then we met with the P5, and the last meeting, in the last meeting, the four neighbours where there are lots of refugees from Syria,  have joined us – that is Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

Before I tell you the main decisions that we have taken, let me express my strong disappointment, and maybe anger and regret, to see what is going on in Syria. The fighting is intensifying all the time, and aid that is available is not reaching the people who need it.  Prisoners are … many, many prisoners are detained for no apparent reason.  And a lot of people have been kidnapped all over Syria, again for no reason.  I have mentioned the two bishops who had been in the hands of kidnappers for months and months, the nuns from Ma’aloula, and the last outrageous thing is this kidnapping of Razan Zaituneh and the three people who were with her, her husband and two others.  We very much hope that the use of these devastating weapons that we hear are being used, they are called, I think explosive barrels, will stop, and we hope that now that we have a date for the conference, the parties will unilaterally take a number of decisions as measures to indicate that they are coming to Geneva to end this conflict.

Now, what we have confirmed today with all the people we have talked to, and also with the Government and with the opposition, is that 22 January is the date when the conference will start.  The government has, in fact, officially informed us that they already had formed the delegation, but they have not yet sent the names; they said that they would send them to us soon and they will make them public soon.

The opposition – we met representatives of the Coalition – and they told us that they  are reaching out to others inside and outside Syria, and that they would also form their delegation; not before the 27th  December as we hoped that they would, but not too late after that.  And, by the way, some of the media have said it was a kind of ultimatum from us, that they should form the delegation before the 27th December – it is nothing of the sort. I don’t see why we should give them ultimatum.  It was a suggestion and an invitation to do so, so that they get ready for the conference and also they give us an opportunity to talk to them, ask what it is, what problems they may have, and perhaps tell them one or two things which will be useful to them and to the process. 

We have also discussed today the list of  participants.  As you know, this has been in discussion for quite some time now. And, we are just one name short of agreement about the list of participants.  I am sure you don’t know what name that is, so I am going to tell you: on Iran we have not agreed yet.  It is no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran’s participation would be the right thing to do.  We have agreed that we will be talking a little bit more to see if we can come to an agreement on this question.

The other participants, I am going to read the list to you. In addition to the United Nations, naturally, to the P5, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, the High Representative of the European Union, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in addition to these obvious participants, this is the list of, I think, 25 countries that are going to be there: Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.  These are the participants who are going to be there. 

We talked also quite a bit about the humanitarian situation.  There is the main track to discuss this within the United Nations is this high level group that was created by Valerie Amos, who met yesterday and I think they are going to meet sometime in January again, but it is unavoidable to talk about the dire humanitarian situation. I have mentioned the prisoners, I have mentioned this very devastating fighting that is taking place, the people that have been kidnapped. The other issue, which is very, very important is access.  We do have, not us only, the ICRC, and some important NGOs that are also working on getting aid to about 10 million people now, out of 23, who need help, who need material help. Getting to them is still a problem  and I hope we will are going to work, all of us, to make sure that access improves to all the people who need help. 

We also spoke about women, and the importance of making certain that their voice is heard about the future of their country.  As you know, there was a meeting yesterday on the subject, and on the 12th and 13th January there will be a larger conference here organized by UN Women, and we will keep in very close touch with these Syrian women. This also, we want it to be a Syrian process, not an international process with Syrian participation. These Syrian women will have got to express themselves about their country and the future, and we will make sure how, we will discuss with the Syrian parties, how the voice of the women will be heard during negotiations.

These are the things, did I forget anything?

So, if you have two or three questions, we can take them now.

Q: As it stands, it looks like the opposition  delegation, whoever’s in it, is not going to represent the vast majority of people fighting on the ground right now against the Assad regime.

JSRS: You know, let’s wait and see what kind of delegation will be formed. As you know, I have always being saying that what we need is a credible delegation. We knew from day one unfortunately that divisions that exist inside Syria, both amongst the, how do you call them, “fighting groups” and also among political groups in the opposition, are such that there is no way that the people who will come to Geneva or Montreux to begin with, Montreux first and Geneva later, will be fully representative ... We know that. But this is a process. You know, I hope it will be as representative as possible but this will be the beginningof the process and I am sure that in following phases, the representation of the people of Syria will be better and better.

Q: What can you tell us about possible confidence building measures leading up to the Geneva II conference you’d like to see? Have you given up hope of there being a cease-fire? And are there any other things that are definitely on or off the table? There has been a lot of talk about whether Assad will be able to stay or go after the conference. Thanks.

JSRS: Yeah, you know, we have been saying for quite some time that, you know the Secretary General himself spoke about this some time ago and appealed to the parties to take unilateral measures before the conference as confidence building measures. The obvious things that can be done are, you know, I think what I have said: I mean, why doesn’t the government unilaterally free the kids that are in prison? You know, teenagers: quite a few of them. Women: there are quite a few of them. Old people that were arrested: they were not fighting, they demonstrated or have been arrested by mistake. So this is certainly something that we would like to see happening. On the side of the opposition, you know I have mentioned the nuns from Ma’aloula, I have mentioned the bishops, Father Paolo and a lot of, again, kids, women that have been kidnapped by various groups. Those who, at least… Quite a few of the organizations and groups and so on, inside, say they support Geneva and they would like to see it succeed. So I use your question to renew this appeal to all these people to do something. Access also: you know, you have around Damascus hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, maybe two, who are near starvation or actually starving. You have these two villages of Zahra and Nubl in the North who are also under siege by the opposition, and also these are civilians. So if better access can become a reality to these places, that will also be great.

Q: [unofficial translation from Arabic] We have heard, Mr. Ladhdar Brahimi, about the story of Geneva II and that it is not an event by itself but rather a start of a process. We want to know if all possible participants in Geneva II know clearly this fact??

JSRS: [unofficial translation from Arabic] To answer your question: I don’t know if the people understand it, but we have been continuously repeating this and we will use your question to confirm that this is not an event meaning that the conference in its first part which is on the 22 and which will have all countries and organizations participating, will be the opening of the negotiations between the two sides. And the negotiations will not be for one day. If it is to succeed it will take some time, much longer than this, if the main objective of the negotiations is to implement the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012 and hence as I said it is a series of events to end the tragedy affecting the Syrians and to build the new Syria.

Q: [unofficial translation from Arabic] Your Excellency, did you agree on the section related to the role of the Syrian President Bashar Assad in the transitional period?

JSRS: [unofficial translation from Arabic] None of such matter was discussed in today’s meetings and as you know, the meeting should be convened with no pre-conditions put from any of the two sides but each side can bring to the negotiating table anything they wish to discuss and thirdly the Geneva Communique stresses that any agreement should be by consensus between the two sides.

Q: Just back to the question of Iran – is Iran, like, definitely off the guest list now, or are you going to talk more about possibilities?

JSRS: No, Iran is not off the list for the moment, but perhaps this is an opportunity for me to explain that we have been talking to Iranians for quite some time.  And we have been telling them that, as far as we are concerned in the United Nations, we hope that they will participate, but that if they didn’t, we would still like to work with them and we would like them to support our process.  The Iranian authorities have told us in New York, in Teheran, in Geneva, and quite recently, two or three days ago on the phone between the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister, that yes, they would like to come to Geneva if it is possible, but if it is not possible, it is not the end of the world.  But they support this process and they will work with us.

Q: Mr. Brahimi, when do you expect that the Government of Syria will announce the  names of their delegation, and if they gave you a reason why they didn’t announce it already?

JSRS:  You have to ask them.  They informed us officially that their delegation is ready.  The press, not them, are saying that they may announce it on Sunday.  We have no reason to doubt that they do have this delegation and that they will communicate it to us, maybe tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and that they will announce it soon.

Q: [unofficial translation from Arabic] What we have understood is that the agenda will be put by the two Syrian sides - the opposition and the government - this is what we understood. Will this be announced with the list of names for the two Syrian delegations on the first day and will there be on the agenda the issue of immunity ?

JSR: [unofficial translation from Arabic]   You would like us to start negotiating here .. I am ready but don’t know if the other two sides are ready .. the agenda for the international conference which is on the 22 is very simple: the United Nations Secretary-General will open the conference and will chair it and at the end of the day he will present a summary and his impressions of the conference. As for the negotiations between the two sides in the presence of the United Nations, I hope that we will agree on the agenda when we meet with the two sides and one of the main reasons why we wish to know the names of the delegations early is to start talking to them on how to proceed, how to start with the most important and then the less important issues.

Q: [unofficial translation from Arabic]  If the opposition refused to participate in Geneva II would the conference be convened with whoever comes??

JSR: [unofficial translation from Arabic] The opposition has confirmed that they are coming to the conference and the National Coalition are in contact with many others from the opposition to compose their delegation which should be, as I said before , as representative as possible of the Syrian opposition.

JSRS: Thank you very much, for your patience, and Happy Holidays, Happy Christmas to those who celebrate it and Happy New Year to all of you.  Thank you very much.