26 October 2018, Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Syria, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura

Security Council considers situation in Middle East. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Querido Señor Presidente,

Le agradezco mucho por esta oportunidad desde Beirut.

I would take this opportunity to update you and Members of the Council since my briefing, which took place last week in New York. Today, I will focus particularly on an update after my consultations in Damascus two days ago.

Following the Secretary-General’s meeting with Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Moalem during the General Assembly, I met Minister Moalem in Damascus on 24 October.

We focused on the political process and the efforts to convene a constitutional committee. I appreciated the frank, quite frank, nature of the exchanges that we had in Damascus.

Minister Moalem expressed appreciation for his meeting with the Secretary-General during the General Assembly. He indicated that this had paved the way for the meeting in Damascus.

I will now refer as accurately as possible to what I heard from Minister Moalem.

He strongly underlined principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of UN member states. He underlined that the Syrian constitution is a highly sensitive matter of national sovereignty.

On the Sochi Final Statement, Minister Moalem referred to another outcome rather than the one circulated by the Russian Federation to this Council. He said that it was possible for the Government of Syria to take “some elements” of the outcome circulated by Russia and “reconcile” them with the government’s preferred other “outcome” -- and the key differences in this regard concerned, mainly, the role of the UN.

As regards the understanding reached between Russia and the United Nations before the Sochi event – which I mentioned specifically when I briefed you on the 17th of October – Minister Moalem did not view it as consistent with the principles of sovereignty and non-interference. Basically, Minister Moalem did not accept a role for the UN in general in identifying or selecting the Middle Third list.

Rather, Minister Moalem indicated that the Government of Syria and Russia had agreed recently that the three Astana guarantors and the Syrian Government would in consultation among them prepare a proposal as regards the Middle Third list, and present it to the UN facilitation.

I should add just for the sake of completeness that Minister Moalem did not in this occasion and in this meeting indicate the Government’s views on the mandate, chairmanship, decision-making or other aspects of rules of procedure necessary for a constitutional committee to function.  

 

Senor Presidente,

For my part, I welcomed the chance for the UN to talk directly with the Government on the constitutional committee. I also regretted that this had not been possible since the Sochi meeting, as the Government had declined the UN offers to engage it directly on the constitutional committee and its follow-up.

I recalled that it was in this context of non-engagement by the Government with the UN that the UN began to work with the Astana guarantors – at their own suggestion – on a package, and that Russia and Iran had informed the UN that they have been constantly consulting the government as the consultations proceeded.

I indicated that it was also appropriate and logical for the UN as the mediator mandated by the Security Council to seek understandings with Russia regarding a meeting that Russia had proposed, hosted and facilitated in Sochi, in order to ensure a common understanding of how the initiative would contribute to the UN-mandated process.

I reminded Minister Moalem of the convening role of the UN mandated by Security Council resolution 2254. I also recalled the terms of the Sochi Final statement as circulated by the Russian Federation to this Council. And, if you allow me, I remind you also today that it was indeed agreed, and I quote:

  • One: To form a constitutional committee comprising the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation along with wide-represented opposition delegation for drafting of a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement under the UN auspices in accordance with the Security Council Resolution 2254.
  • Second point: The Constitutional Committee would at the very least comprise Government, Opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks, Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and [indeed] women. Care would be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria`s ethnic and religious components. Final agreement is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process on the mandate and terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the Constitutional Committee.

End of quote.

I have explained in detail during the last briefing to all of you the criteria that guide us in approaching the question of the list. And I went through these with Minister Moalem.

Most importantly, I stressed that the UN was in Damascus precisely to consult the Government on the list. As the facilitator, I offered for the UN to work there and then with the government if the government objected to particular names, or even on development of a new credible, balanced and inclusive list, as long as it had those characteristics. I observed that this seemed to me to be fully respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic – indeed, it was an invitation to exercise that sovereignty.

At a certain point, Minister Moalem proposed that I do withdraw the proposed Middle Third list already on the table. I indicated that the UN could withdraw its proposal only – only -- once and only if there was an agreement on a new credible, balanced and inclusive list consistent with Security Council resolution 2254 and the Sochi Final Statement. I urged that we should seize the opportunity to ascertain if that was possible or not.

Minister Moalem indicated he would get back to me if new instructions came from his own leadership. However, he also said he preferred at this stage to await the outcome of my own forthcoming consultations with the Astana guarantors.

I should add that Minister Moalem stated that the Astana guarantors had rejected the initial UN proposal on a third list. I for my part indicated this was not really the case and that, while they suggested the need for some changes, they were engaging on the proposal, and it has already been revised more than once. I also indicated that all three guarantors supported the UN’s role as per Security Council 2254 and Sochi.

 

Mr. President,

The Government has expressed its position clearly and indeed indicated, and I can say so, that it wished it to be known publicly, which I am doing at the moment. I cannot at this stage report, however, any evolution on its own position beyond what I just told you and I heard myself and I am reporting to you faithfully. The efforts of those who convened and sponsored Sochi to ensure that the Government of Syria would be fully on board with the outcomes of the final declaration of Sochi have not, as of today, produced therefore the outcome we were hoping for. Otherwise we would have heard something different.

Taking into account: (1) the mandate of the Special Envoy embodied in the Security Council resolution 2254; (2) Minister Moalem’s different understanding of the role of the UN and of the Sochi Final Declaration; (3) the extent of the Government’s desire to re-open work to date; well we do have a serious challenge, let’s be frank. It is my intention to spare no efforts to address this challenge during the forthcoming weeks.

Since Minister Moalem indicated that the Government’s preferred methodology at this stage was working with the Astana guarantors on a third list, a lot of responsibility and expectation rests now on them and on how to implement the Sochi declaration in a manner that carries forward the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 and gives practical effect to the basic points on which the UN supported Sochi.

As I already indicated, the UN proposal was made after careful consultations including with the guarantors, and has been revised already in light of those consultations. The very difficulties of keeping everyone on board should be a reminder to all to be careful in thinking that some radically different approach has any prospects of success.

The UN is not opposed to constructive and moderate suggestions -- so long as we maintain the same spirit of credibility, I repeat credibility, balance, international legitimacy of the Middle Third list on the table, and we have a sense of urgency to find common ground or at least clarify where we stand. Because we should not miss the opportunity of the Idlib window. That is why November is becoming so important.

Let me also stress once more: the UN believes that it is important to ensure a minimum 30 percent women in the committee, and that this requires at least 24 out of the 50 in the Middle Third to be women.  

Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Istanbul to brief the Presidents of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey when they meet to discuss Syria. I am honoured by this invitation. I will use that occasion to remind these four important leaders that -- given that a catastrophe in Idlib has so far been avoided; given the international consensus to see a credible and balanced constitutional committee under the UN facilitation as soon as possible; and given Secretary-General’s instructions to me, who I am constantly consulting, on this occasion even more than ever, that I should be exhausting every avenue in the time that remains of my mandate – there is in my opinion still a clear window of opportunity that needs to be urgently seized. The influence that can be exercised by all world leaders including very much the four world leaders who I am meeting tomorrow in Istanbul can be crucial in ensuring that this happens.

Since on Monday, members of the Small Group will meet in London, I will use also that occasion to host a meeting later-on with them within the context of the Geneva process.

And I really look forward to hosting the Astana guarantors very soon. They themselves met in recent days and, according to their statement, discussed many aspects of a constitutional committee. That meeting will be a vitally important consultation.

I will spare no efforts in the time that remains of my mandate to verify whether it is indeed possible to convene a UN-facilitated, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led constitutional committee that is credible, balanced and inclusive, and contributes in the context of the Geneva process to implementing Security Council resolution 2254.

If it is, the UN will convene it as soon as possible such a committee.

I will, in any case, share a full assessment as Special Envoy when I brief yourselves, the Security Council, in person on 19 November.

Meanwhile, we shall keep our door open, we shall keep under view all options for a constructive and credible outcome.

Señor Presidente le agradezco mucho. Este es mi reporte hasta ahora.