Transcript of Press Stakeout of United Nations Special Envoy  for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following Security Council Briefing

30 May 2024

Transcript of Press Stakeout of United Nations Special Envoy  for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following Security Council Briefing

You will have heard that I emphasized (to the Security Council) that if the current crisis continues like it is now, it will not, you know, we are not seeing a status quo, we are seeing a worsening of the situation, and the situation in Syria now is the worst ever. You know, we have had 13 years of war and conflict and never has the situation been as bad as it is today, in particular when it comes to the economy, but the security situation of course is impacted by what is happening in Gaza. And we have seen that with the Israeli attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises, and then the Iranian response, and we still see Israeli attacks. We see attacks from Syrian territory into occupied Golan and into Israel proper. So, there is a real danger of further escalation of this. So that's the security situation.

On the economy, as I said the worst ever. Nine out of 10 living in poverty, close to 17 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. And on top of it there is absolutely no progress on the political front. And of course, to address the security and the economy, and of course linked to that also the situation for the refugees, we need progress on the political front.

So, I have been appealing to the Security Council today, let's make sure that we have de- escalation. We need of course first and foremost a ceasefire in Gaza, but we also need to de-escalate inside of Syria itself and as you know, Security Council resolution 2254 is talking about the need for a nationwide ceasefire. So, I appealed again to that. 

Then, I said we need to continue to work on the political process. We need to see the Constitutional Committee restart its meeting again. We need to continue with step-for-step. But then I also emphasized that we need now a more comprehensive approach. And I have challenged all the key actors, the government, the opposition, and the international community to engage with me bilaterally in going through what is necessary to put forward a more comprehensive approach so that when the day comes the Syrian parties are ready and international community is ready, we have a solution that could be presented. 

Thank you.

Question: So, the concern that you just laid out, especially with the security situation, what's happening in Gaza clearly the international community is focusing on Gaza right now. So, what would you want or need the international community to do right now for Syria in terms of applying this de-escalation that you've been calling for.

Mr. Pedersen: So, as you know Syria, you have an area controlled by the government, you have an area controlled by the UN-listed terrorist group HTS in the northwest, then you have the so-called Syrian Interim Government supported by the Turks, you have a Turkish-controlled area, and you have then the so-called SDF supported by the Americans. So, all of these areas you risk continued escalation. And today I mentioned four incidents within each and every area of how bad things are developing not only between the areas, but also within these areas. And for this, there is no easy fix, there is no quick fix on this. 

You need to start with small steps. I have suggested you start with confidence building measures, where we agree beforehand what you do - so if the government says “A” you know the Americans and the Europeans say “B,” and you move in parallel, and you do it in a way that you verify. 

I think if you start something like this you could start small, you can start big, you can build a little bit of confidence that could hopefully lower the tension, and then we can start moving more seriously on the other issues that I mentioned. 

Question: My question is you come here on a regular basis to brief the Security Council, the situation as you've outlined is only getting worse. How frustrated are you with the members of the Security Council for not doing enough to tackle what is a war that's been going on for 14 years?

Mr. Pedersen: I think we, you know we can look at the Syrian crisis, we can look at what's happening in, between Israel and the Palestinians, we can look at what's happening in Sudan, and we can look at many other areas. And there is a lack of willingness from the international community to move in a credible manner so we can solve these issues, and this of course is also impacting on the work that we are doing on Syria. And as you rightly said during 14 years we have made very, very little progress. 

And this is extremely disturbing, and of course we who are working on this on a daily basis we get frustrated but more importantly of course this is extremely bad news for the Syrian people themselves. Because as I said all the indicators are pointing in the wrong direction, and this is what we need to change.

Question: I have two questions, first about the tension between Jordan and Syria on the border and how is that affecting the overall stability in Syria. And the second as you know Kofi Annan served almost 10 months only, Brahimi served less than two years or so, De Mistura served three years and a half, I think. But you've been there for much longer than that. What could keep you during this time when there is no progress made?

Mr. Pedersen: Thank you. Good question. I think what is important is that the UN has a commitment to the Syrian people. We can never give up and you need to be persistent. You need to be patient, but you need to make sure that you move steadily towards a possible solution. And I think that's my duty, and that's my job. And as long as I think it's possible to move forward on that then of course I and the United Nations we will continue.

The issue you mentioned with the Jordan is an important one. As you know Jordan has been extremely worried about increased drug trafficking and also about the smuggling of weapons, I met with Foreign Minister Safadi, the Jordanian Foreign Minister in Brussels and he explained that a little bit in detail how they’re working on this. And he also explained to me how they're dealing with the Syrian government on this and the dialogue they are having on that. For the details on that, you will have to ask him.

Question: First of all, did I hear correctly that you said that the poverty rate currently is nine out of 10? 

Mr. Pedersen: nine out of 10, yes.

Question: So, 90 percent. Okay, secondly can you give us at least an estimate of the number of civilian deaths within Syria within the last year.

Mr. Pedersen: Listen, I don't have the numbers I can verify within the last year. But a few years back, I think three years back, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put forward figures for how many have civilians had been killed throughout the conflict, and they could go and point to each and every individual who had been killed more than 300,000.

Question: This year?

Mr. Pedersen:  No, through the conflict. But then there is one important thing and that is, as you may have heard that Martin Griffiths also said, is of course that if when it comes to people being killed and maimed, of course, the numbers now are going down compared with the height of the conflict, but there are still too many civilians being killed on the daily basis all across Syria. But there is no official statistics I'm afraid on that.

Question: I don't hear much talking now, not you (inaudible) the last several months (inaudible) about the crime against humanities that in Syria been happening there during those 14 years, especially in the beginning. So, my question is, do you think that for your mission to find peace maybe it's better to put aside certain things that happened, and maybe that maybe international tribunals, it is better to stay away or to search for justice, which will always be that no matter what.

Mr. Pedersen: So, I think the important thing for me now is as I said to work on the immediate challenges. So, I said de-escalation, let's make sure that we meet the humanitarian crisis with increased funding and not decreased funding, and then to restart the political process. And it is only through an intra Syrian dialogue, you know, where the opposition, and the government sit down and discuss that we will be able to move forward. And that's also the area I think that they will have to discuss eventually if they are to find a solution to this tragic conflict.

Question: Recently student opposition told that it proposed a new initiative (inaudible) that proposed new initiative from the settlement of the situation in the country, so could you provide some details and your attitude, and maybe some key propositions. 

Mr. Pedersen: No, I'm afraid that's a bit too early for me to comment on that.

Question: My question is it's been 14 years the war has started in Syria and I think like between six and eight countries have been bombing Syria every day almost and what's the biggest challenge for you to stop, like what it became a battleground for international forces especially Syria as I said more like eight countries.

Mr. Pedersen. I think you know this this has developed into a serious challenge that we are having, you know, at least six different foreign armies operating in Syria one way or another. Of course, as the government always reminds us two of them, Russia and Iran, are there on the invitation of the government, but the others are also active in this arena, and it's just for me, it's significant because it proves that you know for us to be able to move forward all of these actors need to be involved. It's not possible to find a solution to the Syrian crisis without all of these actors getting involved of course together with the Syrian parties. 

But what it also shows is that some of the most important issues are not in the hands of the Syrian parties, but in the hands of the actors that you actually mentioned, and that's part of the tragedy I'm afraid. A

All right I think, so study very carefully my briefing, and there you will get all the answers.

Thank you.