Geneva, Switzerland

29 February 2016

Secretary-General's press encounter with Maestro Daniel Barenboim [Scroll down for Q&A]

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and Maestro [Daniel] Barenboim.

It is a pleasure for me to welcome today United Nations Messenger of Peace, Maestro Daniel Barenboim and members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

For the past nine years, Maestro Barenboim has used his extraordinary talent and commitment to promote peace and tolerance, the core values of our Organization, as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. 

Well before that, he was uniting young musicians from Israel and Arab countries to foster dialogue and people-to-people diplomacy, in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that he founded with the late Edward Said.

Two musicians from the orchestra are with us today: Tyme Khleifi from Ramallah and Guy Braunstein from Israel, welcome.  Personal contacts are all the more important at a time of polarization.

I am sorry there is no opportunity to listen to the Orchestra today, because that is the best way to appreciate their contribution and to spread their message.  Every performance is a testimony to the power of music to break down barriers, to promote cultural understanding and to build bridges between communities.

I have heard the Orchestra perform several times at the United Nations General Assembly halls, most recently a Concert for the Understanding of Civilizations and Human Rights here at the Palais des Nations last October. 

Each time, I have been moved and inspired by their example.

It is therefore my great honour today to appoint the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a United Nations Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding. 

The Orchestra will work closely with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to build mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities, highlighting the will of all people around the world to reject extremism and embrace diversity and tolerance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted that the Orchestra has committed to help us in our work towards creating a more peaceful, inclusive and united world.

Thank you.

Q: I have two very small questions, one for the Secretary-General and one for Mr. Barenboim. My first question for the Secretary-General: you received a letter from the Syrian opposition, Mr. Secretary-General, about the violations of the cessation of hostilities in Syria.  What are your evaluations for these violations and do you think this will be stopped to continue the process?

SG: As of now, I can tell you that by and large, the cessation of hostilities is holding, even though we have experienced some incidents. But the Task Force and all other members of this ISSG [International Syria Support Group] are now trying to make sure that this does not spread any further and this cessation of hostilities can continue. This morning, I have received a briefing from Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and also, I had the opportunity of meeting the members of the Task Force. 

I was very much touched as well as assured by the hard-working members of the Task Force under the leadership of Staffan de Mistura.  There were representatives of the United States and Russia and all other countries.  They are working in one Task Force room to monitor, and there is our office in Damascus and the United States and Russia, they are also closely monitoring the situation.  It is my sincere hope that with this cessation of hostilities continuing, first of all we can continue to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to many people, at least 400,000 people who are living in besieged areas, and also at the same time, Staffan de Mistura is going to convene – resume – this Syrian parties’ political dialogue on March 7, as was already announced.  So it is absolutely important and crucial that the parties keep their promises. That is very important.

Q: John Zaracostas with France 24. Secretary-General, what are the chances that you can convince the members of the International Syria Support Group to go beyond two weeks in the pause?  Thank you, sir.

SG: During the last five years, we have never had this kind of cessation of hostilities.  Kofi Annan, and particularly during the time of Lakhdar Brahimi, he tried several times, there were some hopeful signs but this cease-fire was broken immediately. Now, we see by and large the cease-fire holding, so we have to continue at least two weeks so that we can really make people have a moment – time – to deliver humanitarian assistance and also, prepare groundwork for political dialogue.  This is what we call “confidence-building measures”.  Of course, in principle and ideally, we have to extend these two weeks.

Never in the past, while people have been suffering because of this Syrian conflict, the Permanent Members of the Security Council, they have shown unity of purpose, and they have adopted Security Council resolution 2254 in December last year, and most recently, they have wholeheartedly, unanimously supported this cessation of hostilities through their unanimous adoption of the Security Council resolution.  Therefore, I am hopeful that we can continue this one - we can build broader confidence-building measures.  That is our target.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I was told you wanted questions about orchestras, so I thought of one.  If you see yourself as the conductor of a great orchestra of nations, then I guess the United States is in the first violin’s seat, and in November we’re going to find out who’s going to be sitting in that seat - and it could be Donald Trump. And I wonder what you think about the harmony of nations, and the potential for cacophony, if Donald Trump is playing in your orchestra.  Thank you very much.

SG: Briefly, my personal reflection - you can call all the political leaders, or community leaders, and including myself as Secretary-General, we may be doing something like maestros, musical conductors are doing. We like to really want all the members of the parties [to] play harmonious music, harmonious melodies.  But this world, in reality, we see a lot of players playing different, very, not harmonious melodies, but very troubling melodies are coming out. That’s what diplomacy is meant to resolve, as harmoniously conducting all this process.  It has been quite difficult, particularly as we have seen in the case of the Syrian crisis, but there are many more crises.  In some cases, we have been able to play beautiful, harmonious music at the end, after practising many times.  This Special Envoy or his work and our work together, the ISSG, I think this may be some practising to have much better, harmonious music.  Let us hope, one day soon, we’ll have very harmonious music sent to the world from Syria.  I thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Jamie from Associated Press. Tough act to follow from my colleague from Reuters. But I would like to go back to Ahmed’s question.  The letter from the HNC, the Syrian opposition, said specifically that they want there to be a specification of the territory covered by the truce and they are decrying an absence of clear separation lines.  How favourable are you to that idea of having clear separation lines made publicly, and how concerned are you about the incidents over the weekend?

SG: Before answering that question, let me add just one more thing about Maestro Barenboim’s contribution as Messenger of Peace and Global Advocate. As you may know, we are going to have a World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul from May 23 to 24.  He has kindly agreed and volunteered that he will bring the whole West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to Istanbul to send the beautiful, harmonious orchestra to world leaders, when we will be discussing how we can deliver and meet the expectations of many, many millions and millions of people who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.  And I really thank you very much.

Returning to your question - basically, I am not here to discuss all this in a detailed manner.  I have received a letter expressing their concern about the violations of this cessation of hostilities.  This is what we have to really make sure that all the parties who have agreed to the cessation of hostilities – I was told that more than 90 groups have agreed – so it is important, it is crucially important for the future of Syria, for humanity, we cannot go this way.  So I am urging the parties to abide by this cessation of hostilities.  If they cannot keep this even two weeks, then how can they say that they are responsible for humanity?  We need to extend this two-week cessation of hostilities.  But for now, for today, they have shown their leadership by example.  I thank you.