Transcript of press conference by Joint Special Representative for Syria (JSRS) Lakhdar Brahimi at the Palais des Nations, 26 January
JSRS: Good afternoon everyone. Today we had a meeting with the two parties together in the morning, and a meeting with each side alone in the afternoon. We find that this manner of bringing the two parties together and, then, from time to time, and more often than that, speaking to the parties separately is very useful. When I meet the parties together, I don’t have the chance to discuss with each party their own positions, their aspirations, and also their worries. So I think it is very useful to do that in separate meetings and it has definitely been useful today.
Tomorrow we will meet in the morning with the two parties together in the same room. They will be doing most of the talking to one another through me, and most probably in the afternoon I will see them separately again. In the morning, we have discussed humanitarian issues. We have talked in great detail about Homs. As you know, the center of the city has been under siege for a very, very long time and now I hope we are approaching solution for at least the civilians. What I have been told by the Government side is that women and children in this besieged area in the old city are welcome to leave immediately, and the other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the Government needs the list of their names first. So, we are going to inform our people in Damascus, or we have already informed them about this, so hopefully, starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the old city of Homs. I hope that the rest of civilians will be able to leave soon after that.
The country team of the United Nations has been discussing with the Government of Homs about the humanitarian aid to be sent to the old city in Homs. The convoy is ready, and the Governor was supposed to discuss that with his advisors and also with Damascus, and there again we hope that something will happen tomorrow, Monday.
On the detainees, prisoners, people who have been kidnapped, we also had quite a long discussion. As you know, irrelevant of the discussions with the two parties, we have been appealing to the Government to release women, children and the aged that are in detention. It has been, I think, the Government has asked the opposition to give them the list of the people that are in detention in the hands of the various armed groups, and the opposition agreed that they will try and collect the lists that have been asked from those organizations they have authority over or contacts with. So, these are things that we will hopefully follow on. So, this is briefly what has happened today.
I will answer two or three questions.
Q: After these face-to-face meetings, it may be early days to ask this question, but do you feel more confident that eventually this will lead to a peaceful negotiated solution for the whole Syrian crisis?
JSRS: You know, I think I said yesterday or the day before yesterday, that we have gone into this with our eyes wide open. It is extremely difficult, complicated, the situation in Syria has been going from bad to worse, and that situation is still there. So, you know, to bring Syria out of ditch into which it has fallen will take time. That is why I told people today that I am often accused of being too slow. But I think that being slow is a better way of going fast than precipitation. If you run, you may gain one hour and lose one week. So, we are going slow and I hope we will continue to go slow. I think that the process is continuing, but it is very early days.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Of course thank you Mr. Brahimi for your efforts to solve the crisis, that we in Syria of course call an attack. Mr. Brahimi, you talked about the issue of humanitarian assistance. How will this humanitarian assistance be delivered as there are those who booby trap the roads and attack the convoys with bullets. You also talked about those held and detained. We have a media colleague whose name is Mohamad Saeed. Will he return to the Syrian television? This is one issue, on another issue, the Opposition say they do not have lists, where then did these figures come from that are sprayed all over the media screens? Thank you.
JSRS: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Well, your questions are without doubt acceptable from your point of view. I talked only about Homs today. With regard to Homs, there is an agreement now from the armed groups inside that they will not attack a humanitarian convoy if it enters Homs. In other areas, you are right there are very big problems and our colleagues from the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Syrian and foreign civil society organizations who are working in this field face big difficulties without doubt. As for the lists, I do not know what are the figures that you are talking about but the Opposition brothers said that they would gather names. It is known that there are different groups so they will gather names on their side and God willing they will give them to us. Thank you.
Q: Dr. Brahimi, just one clarification, as you said, the civilians, women and children, are hopefully leaving besieged areas from tomorrow. But, in the first place, why is the Syrian Government asking you to provide the list of men, what’s the reason for that?
Secondly, you said being slow is better. Do you have an idea of a timeline that this negotiation will run, just a broad idea?
JSRS: You know, I thought I was very clear. The Government is saying that women and children can leave any time from now on, that is what I said. I did not say that they are leaving or that they have left. The Government has said that women and children can leave the city of Homs whenever they wish. They are asking for the lists of civilians so that they see that they are civilians and not armed people.
About the timeline, again, I didn’t say that going slow was great. What I am saying is that you don’t run before you can walk, and we are just learning to walk. It is too early to speak about timeline. Our timeline is tomorrow.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Brahimi, you said that the humanitarian convoys would leave for Homs tomorrow Monday. Today, the Syrian Minister of Information Omran Al Zoebi told journalists that no convoy will be allowed to move without looking at preparations and security to ensure these convoys are not attacked as he said. Did the Opposition also say that it will ensure the security of these convoys? Did you get a pledge from both parties to ensure the safety of the road for these convoys until they reach Homs? Another question : tomorrow, you will start the political negotiations which are the principal aim for this conference. We want to know what these negotiations will look like, will they be direct or separate, and with regard to the transfer of power as was agreed in Geneva I to be at the beginning of these sessions. Thank you.
JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) I did not say that the convoys will enter tomorrow, I said I hoped that they would enter tomorrow. I also said that the armed persons present in the old city of Homs told us and others that they would not attack the convoys if they move. I also said that the talking is between our colleagues in the United Nations in Damascus and the Governor of Damascus and that the decision has not been taken yet. As for talking about tomorrow, let us allow for a discussion for every incident. Let us start first and then say what happened and what did not happen.
Q: In 1995, under international auspices, the city of Srebrenica in Bosnia fell. That was filtering by the military around the city, lists of names were provided, men were taken away and killed. Don’t you fear that by drafting the list and providing the list to one side or the other in the conflict can recreate a kind of Srebrenica situation?
JSRS: We don’t have that fear. I don’t think we have that fear. Horrible things are happening in Syria, we don’t want anything like Srebrenica in addition to all of that.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, can you describe the mood of the two teams, did you feel that they are getting bored or that they have a desire to continue?
JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) I am in fact happy that in a general way, there is mutual respect and there is an awareness that this is an important attempt and that we have to continue and that God willing this mood that I mentioned will continue and that we will make progress gradually.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Thank you Mr. Brahimi. Anas Al Abd this afternoon told the media that no one party in Syria holds the decisions of all the armed groups on the ground. Therefore, I would like to ask you how you can get assurances from the Coalition including on those missing and detained? The Government is clear. But how will you get assurances to release those detained by armed groups, and they are in the thousands?
JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Well I said that the Coalition which is present here said that it would try to gather the names from the sides that it has control over or that it has a connection with. They know and are aware, just like you and I are, that there are unfortunately very many parties, and there are no contacts with some of them, and therefore we will not know who are the people being held by them and who died. It is a very difficult situation but God willing we will gather a large number of the missing persons and those who were taken and that gradually their problem is resolved.
Q: Mr. Brahimi, tomorrow, what will exactly be discussed tomorrow? There is information that the political part will begin, and if so, what will happen with humanitarian issues, will they be discussed in parallel, what will be the working format?
JSRS: You know, this is a political negotiation, everything we discuss is political. So, tomorrow ..as you know, on the first day nobody made an opening statement, only I did. So, I think tomorrow I am expecting the two parties to make some general statements on the way forward. And the humanitarian thing is being… our, our negotiation is not the main place where humanitarian issues are discussed. But I think we all felt, and the two parties felt also, that you cannot start negotiations about Syria without having some discussions about the very, very bad humanitarian situation.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi there is fear and suspicions that the talks and sessions will collapse because of the inability of the Coalition delegation to implement what is agreed upon. Are you thinking of widening this delegation and allowing other parts of the Syrian opposition to attend in order to be able to implement any agreements. On another issue, are you still at the same step or have you progressed. Thank you.
JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) Thank you very much. God willing, tomorrow you will have a role.
Q: (unofficial translation from Arabic) Answer me please.
JSRS : (unofficial translation from Arabic) I did answer you.
Geneva, 26 January 2014