New York

19 January 2014

Secretary-General's press briefing

SG: Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.

Tomorrow I depart for Montreux for the Geneva Conference on Syria.  The Conference is our long-awaited chance to end the violence and begin putting the country back together.

I welcome the decision by the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Armed Forces to participate.  I look forward to seeing an inclusive opposition delegation.

Over the past 48 hours, I have had a series of intensive meetings and telephone conversations with many global leaders and others who are part of the diplomacy aimed at helping Syria to regain the path of peace.

I have been striving to generate momentum and to create the best possible atmosphere for the success of this crucially important undertaking.

Further to these discussions, I have decided to issue some additional invitations to the one-day gathering in Montreux.  They are: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and Iran. I believe the expanded international presence on that day will be an important and useful show of solidarity in advance of the hard work that the Syrian Government and opposition delegations will begin two days later in Geneva.

As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.

I have spoken at length in recent days with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Javad Zarif.  He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communique, including the Action Plan.

Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers.  It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.

Therefore, as convenor and host of the conference, I have decided to issue an invitation to Iran to participate.

After nearly three years of devastation, and after many months of discussions about the conference, it is now time for the Syrian parties, the region and the international community to unite behind a political solution based on the Geneva Communique.

I call on all those who come to Montreux to act in good faith.

Let me be clear – Montreux is not a venue for negotiations. The Syrian parties themselves will begin that process in Geneva on 24 January.

In Montreux, we are gathering countries and organizations to show their solidarity with this process and of course with the Syrian people, who have suffered so much.

I especially appeal to the Syrian parties themselves to keep one goal in mind: the end of the suffering of the Syrian people and the beginning of a transition to a new Syria.

Thank you.

Q: Sir, what from your point of view has led Iran to change its course and its mind and agree to the terms that you have stated in Geneva I being implemented in Geneva II? And secondly, where does this put the position of the Government of Syria, who wrote you a letter saying that they disagree with the terms of reference? And thirdly, we heard that the Syrians have proposed, backed by the Russians, that there would be elections. They proposed to hold early elections, three months from now, with limited international supervision, basically the BRICS, of course with President [Bashar al] Assad running. Do you welcome this or do you dismiss this idea? Thank you.

SG: The issue of Iran’s participation in the Geneva Conference has been one of the key issues since 2012, when the first Geneva Conference was held. At that time, after a long and very careful consideration, we decided not to invite [Iran]. At that time, Mr. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General, was the convenor. At that time, Iran was not invited after very careful consideration, and after consultations with many, many countries, together with Saudi Arabia. You may remember very well.

When we proposed to have Geneva II Conference, again this issue has been discussed at length by the initiating countries, together with Lakhdar Brahimi and many, many countries. As I said in my opening statement, after long and very careful extensive discussion with the countries concerned, Iran needs to participate as one of the important neighbouring countries. I have been speaking with him extensively many, many times, including the last one yesterday; that Iran understands that the basis of this conference is the Geneva I communiqué and the main goal of this Geneva II Conference should be to establish a transitional governing body with full executive powers upon mutual consent. He assured me again and again that Iran, if they are invited, then they will play a very positive, constructive role.

For the second question, about the letter of the Syrian Government, first of all it is regrettable that the letter was leaked. Then, the main purpose of our conference is to establish a transitional governing body with full executive powers.

On the third question, I am not in a position to comment, because all this kind of political process should be negotiated in Geneva, including elections.

Q: Can you shed some light on why you decided to invite Mexico to these negotiations? Is it as a representative of the Latin American region in general? Thank you so much.

SG: I have decided to invite 10 additional countries, in addition to the 30 countries which have been already invited. I am not going to deal with the countries one by one, why these countries have been invited. Mexico is a very important regional country and Mexico is also one of the global players, who can play a very important, positive role. Those countries who are now invited additionally also can work as a source of pool through which we can send a strong political [message of] solidarity and they can play a very important role. Mexico can play an important role. There is an agreement as a result of Geneva II Conference negotiations. Very important, they can play a very politically important role, they can provide the necessary resources, and they can be a very good partner in this process.

Q: I have two questions: Has the Government of Saudi Arabia said that they are going to participate in the conference? And one more question on the participation of Iran: The United States, when you talked with the counterpart of the United States, did they show some objection when you said that you were going to issue the invitation to the Iranian Government? Thank you.

SG: I am not going to discuss anything on this issue with the individual countries’ positions and reactions. We will have to see. But it is true that I have spoken with the Saudi Foreign Minister on this matter recently. I sincerely hope that… I first welcome the Saudi Government’s acceptance of my invitation. He told me that he would be coming himself. And also, Saudi is a very important regional player and can play a very constructive and positive contribution to the success of this Geneva Conference.

Q: So you said that you had a very intensified talk with Foreign Minister Zarif. Can we say, did he say clearly that Iran has changed its position to accept totally the Geneva I document?

SG: As I understand, Iran, they said that they are committed to play a very constructive and important positive role. And they said that they welcome the Geneva Communique. So based on my conversations, several times with Iranian delegations, then I am convinced that they will be in support of this Geneva Communique and they will play a very important and positive constructive role. And I understand that they may also issue a statement.

Q: You mentioned that the actual substantive negotiations are going to begin between the Syrian Government representatives and the opposition on 24 January in Geneva.  What are the modalities in terms of any participation or facilitation by any of the nations that you have invited? I know that you have indicated that they are there for the solidarity in large part. To what extent are any or all of them going to play any role in helping to facilitate the negotiations, along with the UN itself? And along with that, there have been reports about some having scaled back expectations in terms of the outcome of the negotiations, in the regard that perhaps more realistic expectations might be humanitarian corridors being opened up and some localized ceasefires. If that is the eventual outcome, would that be something that you would consider at least some degree of success? Thank you.

SG: First of all, about the modalities, from the beginning, when the US and Russia initiated this and in the course of our consultations, we thought that first we would divide it into two parts, because we believed from the beginning that the negotiations should be led by and owned by the Syrians. So this second part is the most crucially important one. Since they have been fighting during the last three years, it is very important that the international community should urge them to act and negotiate in good faith for their own future. And a lot of countries have been involved in the Syrian crisis. First of all, 70, 80 countries have been providing humanitarian assistance, as was shown in Kuwait last week. And many countries have been providing their logistical and political support for the destruction of chemical weapons. And many countries have been expressing their concerns, almost all the countries in the world have been expressing their concerns, that this violence, both for humanity and for the future of Syrians. We cannot let the situation go on this way. That is why we believe that the political process is important. And these 40 countries who are going to participate in the Montreux conference will play [a role as] a source of support and encouragement and solidarity, and in the course of implementing the agreement which will be made as a result of this meeting, they can also play a very important role.

Now on your second part, is that the chemical weapons destruction and humanitarian assistance, they can always work as mutually reinforcing the process. But among all this, first of all we have to have a political solution. But in the absence of a political solution, many people have been killed, well over 100,000 people; and millions and millions of people have been [made] refugees and internally displaced. So we have to continue, at the same time; but since we are going to begin this political process, I sincerely hope that all the parties, particularly the Syrian parties, act in good faith with a sense of seriousness and a sense of time. Time is of the essence.

Q: I have two quick questions. One of them is that there have been reports that 40 of the Syrian National Coalition delegates walked out on the vote on whether or not to attend Geneva II; do you think that boycott will have a significant impact on inclusive delegations and reaching a political solution? And the second question is: would you be able to give us any updates on the composition of the delegates and whether or not there is a significant presence of women? Do you feel positive that women will be well represented?

SG: We have been stating consistently that the delegation list should include women and women’s voices should be properly reflected in the course of this negotiation. That is very important. And as I said in my statement, I highly commend and welcome their decision yesterday, which was made in Istanbul. And I sincerely hope that they will participate as they have committed and make their voices heard to the world and sit down together with the Syrian Government delegation in earnest, in sincerity, with a sense of mission for their own people. After all, Syria is their own country and they should be responsible for the future, a better future for Syria and the Syrian people. Thank you very much.