Geneva, Switzerland

15 March 2021

Note to Correspondents: Transcript of Press Remarks by Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria

As you know I just concluded my briefing to the Security Council, and this of course, is for all of us, a very special day – it is ten years since the beginning of the Syrian tragedy.  And as I told the Council, the Syrian tragedy will go down in history as one of the darkest chapters and I also said that the Syrian people are among the greatest victims of this century.

As you know the conflict has now lasted for the same period as the First World War and the Second World War and I said that the Syrian people must feel that they are really trapped in an endless conflict.

I have also reflected, like many others, on where we are after ten years of the conflict and the fact that we have not been able to mediate an end to this conflict.  And I expressed also to the Security Council the profound regret of the United Nations that we have not been able to mediate an end to this conflict. The Syrian people deserves better.

For a decade, the Syrians have suffered what I call unimaginable violence and indignities – and I emphasised that Syrian men, women and children, from all areas and all backgrounds have faced these troubling times and that their grievances and the horrors are undeniable.

But let me also emphasise that against this very grim background that I still believe there is a mediated path out of this conflict. As you know we are now approaching a year since the beginning of the cessation of hostilities in northwest Syria, and we currently have what I call a relative calm – and that relative calm has then lasted for a close to a year. Of course, compared to nearly any other place on the planet, it has been a tremendously violent period by any other measure.

And let me also emphasise of course that while we are pleased that there has been relative calm, it also remains a great danger that the fragile calm could unravel. That is why I have stressed the need for consolidating this fragile calm and moving it into a true nationwide ceasefire.

The other danger for Syria, and I also highlighted that in my briefing to the [Security] Council, is that we do not see a collapse, but actually a prolonged stasis sets in, and the Syrian people is then in the risk of enduring another decade of desperation, despondency and despair.

We all know that there is no military solution to this conflict – and I believe also now that key interlocutors understand that no one actor or group of actors can impose their will on Syria or settle the conflict alone.

So, there is a way forward. But we need to find a way around what I call the “you first” syndrome that has dominated much of the diplomacy around Syria for the last decade.

Right now, there are what I call “demands on all sides” – but little movement on any side. And this dynamic has to change.

What is needed is to identify with realism and precision and implement in parallel mutual and reciprocal steps for steps, step by step, from Syrian and international players.

All players – including the Syrian government and opposition, and key international players – would need to be ready to identify not only what they realistically hope to achieve, but what they can put on the table.

I believe that we need to continue quiet diplomacy in this regard. And ultimately, we should try also to put in place a new international format as a forum for the necessary discussions and cooperation.

And let me conclude by saying that at a time when there are so many pressing challenges, we must not lose sight of the fundamental importance of a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.

Thank you so much.

Question: You just mentioned that there is relative calm, and don’t you think that that relative calm is dangerous because it will help international community forgetting that resolution 2254 is not implemented yet, and could you please brief us about the consultations with the key international players? Thank you sir.

Mr. Pedersen: Thank you so much.  I tried to get the message across, as I said, that this is a fragile calm, and as we know from other instances in recent time in history, mistakes do happen. When you have Turkish forces, you have the Syrian Army, and we know that there is a Russian and Iranian presence, and we also know that in other areas there is the United States and we have the Israelis who have been bombarding.  So, this relative calm is extremely fragile, and it could collapse if we don’t now use this opportunity, that this calm has created, to focus on the political process. So, it would be to fool oneself if one believed that the current status quo could keep the calm forever in Syria.  So that is why I believe there should be other ways that we need to do diplomacy.  You alluded to my visits to Sochi, to Moscow, Damascus and Istanbul, and let me say that all the elements that I mentioned in my briefing to the Security Council were discussed during my visits to these places.  I of course have also been in touch also with others virtually, and as I have also emphasised to others, I am hoping that it will be possible then during the next few weeks and months to bring this process forward again.

Question: You said that support of key international players is critical for any movement and you said, and I quote “in time we may need to try to put in place a new means of international discussion, a new international format for the necessary diplomacy and cooperation.” Are you talking about something like the old the International Syria Support Group or one of its predecessors? What were you thinking of?

Mr. Pedersen: I have not concluded what I think is necessary, but what I said is that it is important that we establish this new international format, in a manner where we bring in all the different parties that have an influence on this conflict, so obviously it will have to involve, one way or the other, the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Arab States and the European Union, and I also earlier mentioned all permanent members of the Security Council. But as you know it is still early days for the Biden Administration, and we will also need a more in-depth discussion with the Biden Administration and then with the other interlocutors that I just mentioned to you now. But I think the key for me is that it is now necessary for all these actors to seriously sit down and develop a Syrian policy based on the understanding that none of them can dictate the outcome of the Syrian conflict.

Question: As you know Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide with over 3.6 million Syrian refugees alone, however the Turkish government has consistently stated that it does not receive sufficient financial support for the refugees it hosts especially from the European Union, so, do you have a call or a message to the international community, especially to the European Union on this matter?

Mr. Pedersen: I think we all appreciate and understand the importance of Turkey when it comes to hosting Syrian refugees, and I know that the UN family has expressed its appreciation to Turkey for what it is doing. And I also believe that a huge amount of the humanitarian assistance going to Syrian refugees actually goes to Turkey. But I am sure that there are issues to be discussed on this and as you know there is a conference in Brussels by the end of this month, where the humanitarian assistance to Syria will be discussed and I am sure also then its assistance to refugees in Turkey.

Question: Several Arab countries that were previously opposed to President Assad and his regime seem to be changing their tune and talking about normalising relations with him. Will that hurt the leverage that you have, is it too soon perhaps to let Syria back in to the Arab’s family fold?

Mr. Pedersen: Obviously this is a discussion that Syria will have to have with the members of the Arab League, I have had discussions with my Arab friends and colleagues and I have also seen the newspapers and news reports that you have just mentioned, but in my latest round in Cairo when I discussed this with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, he emphasised that this was indeed a cumbersome and difficult process and that was something that we will continue to discuss and see how it will develop. In the end, this is obviously a decision that has to be made by the Arab League itself in dialogue with Damascus.

Thank you.