Press Remarks by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following the Security Council Briefing

22 Nov 2019

Press Remarks by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following the Security Council Briefing

I had a very good discussion with the Council both in the open and in the closed session afterward. You would have heard that there was full support to the work that we are doing in Geneva – of course, they welcomed the launch of the Constitutional Committee.  I gave a rather detailed description of what I think we have achieved so far. As I said before, I think at this stage things have gone much better than what most people expected. I am looking forward to meeting again on Monday with the drafting body of 45 to continue the discussion there. 

I, of course, also emphasized that the Constitutional Committee, is, of course, one part of the political process. We also need to see that there will be progress made on other issues. But as of now, of course, I am concentrating on the work of the Constitutional Committee. I am still appealing for the release of detainees, and people who have been abducted, and more information on the missing persons. 

But again, a good meeting, and full support from a united Security Council, and that is also quit something. 

Question: Beside the Constitutional Committee, what are the elements that you need to achieve in order to talk about any political breakthrough? And also, I wonder whether you think the financial crisis in Lebanon might affect the situation in Syria.

Mr. Pedersen: I think one of the key challenges, of course, after nine years of conflict is what I call the deep divisions within the Syrian society and we need a political process that can heal the wounds in the Syrian society, and we have, I think, quit a few ideas on how we can move forward on this. I discussed that with the Council. I am discussing that when I am in Damascus, and I am discussing it with the Opposition, and of course with the broader international community.  And I think hopefully we will be able to see that steps will be taken in this process.

Question: Earlier today we heard from the US Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey, and what he said was that the US by securing the oil in the east of Syria, they were not doing anything illegal. I was wondering if you could tell us whether that is legal or illegal under international law. And my second question is, do you have a deadline for the work of the Constitutional Committee?

Mr. Pedersen: No, I do not have a deadline for the work of the Constitutional Committee. But what we have agreed to is that we will work seriously. That we will make progress. And that I will be reporting on the work of the Committee to the Security Council.

What I think is important is that while the work of the Committee is progressing, we should also see progress on other areas. 

Question: And my first question on James Jeffrey’s remarks?

Mr. Pedersen: That is what I call a rhetorical question. I think you know the answer to that. 

Question: Special Envoy, can I go back to comments that were made by the Syrian Government Co-Chair Ahmad Kuzbari? In his press conference, he said the any constitution needed to preserve what he described as national constants. He used that phrase a number of times. You probably know that that must code for the dynastic rule of the Assad family who will soon be marking 50 years of their repressive rule. Clearly, at some point, you are going to have a crunch point when you are going to have to address this issue.

Mr. Pedersen: I think I would be very surprised if the parties at this stage of the Constitutional Committee did not promote their primary views, the principle positions. These are very, very early days.  We had a good discussion where we went through nearly all issues of relevance to the Constitutional Committee. There were some views that I think they actually agreed upon. And then, of course, there were deep divisions on key issues. 

But we know that. That is why we are sitting together in Geneva. That is why we have started the discussion, and then we will see how it develops. And then I am sure that maybe in a few months’ time, we will be able to discuss whether there has been progress on how we are moving forward on the drafting. But this will be discussions between the Syrians. 

Question: The American representative said clearly his position against the help to Damascus in the reconstruction of Syria, he was supported by European countries. What is the UN position on that now when the political process seems to be moving with the Constitutional Committee? Does the UN support the American position? Or Russian position? Or it has its own position? Do you plan any meetings with the Russian authorities soon?

Mr. Pedersen: Yes, I have plans for that. But that will most probably be public sometime next week. I hope to have some meetings in the near future.

This discussion about reconstruction and the political process is, you know, a well-known position from the Americans and from the Europeans. And they have repeated that today. But at the same time, I have also noticed that they are emphasizing that if there is progress on the political front, they are willing to engage. And I think that is what I want to emphasize. And that is what I want to work on. 

Question: You don’t have a timeframe obviously and it’s maybe not a good idea for any negotiations to have a timeframe, but what would be a benchmark? Or what is the priority in the second round starting Monday? What kind of achievement do you want to see after this second round? And, if I may, follow up on the impact of the Lebanese financial crisis on Syria.

Mr. Pedersen: I think it is important that we accept that it will take a little bit of time to develop the discussions in Geneva on the Constitutional Committee.  These are fundamental issues about how to organize the state. It is about the social contract for the future of Syria. And it’s about listening to the Syrian people and to respond to the aspirations of the Syrian people. I will not establish benchmarks of what I want to happen this week, and then next week. But what I want to see is steady progress. And I hope to be able to report on that to the Security Council also in the future. 

Thank you.

 New York, 22 November 2019​