Transcript of Press Stakeout by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, following Security Council Briefing
Mr. Pedersen: Thank you Jenifer, and as always good to see you. You heard my briefing, I started by quoting the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her announcement about the work that they have been doing, identifying more than 350,000 people individually, by name, by date, and place, when they were killed. And of course, it is a stark reminder of what the 10 years of conflict has brought to the Syrian people. And I think – that, coupled now with the challenges we see on the ground, of course I reminded the Council that we had 18 months of calm, but as I have repeatedly stated to the Council, this is a fragile calm and if you add to that fragile calm also the economic challenges, the humanitarian challenges, the fact that 90 percent of the Syrian people are now living under poverty, that more than 13 million people need humanitarian assistance, all of this I think should remind us that – and of course the fact that half the pre-war population left their homes and that refugees are not returning in any big numbers – that this is the crisis that needs to be sorted out, and that the time for political initiatives is now.
As you know I have stated to the Syrian parties, to key international actors, that we need to move forward in what I call the step-for-step approach, and I have challenged them to work with me on this, to put forward what they can do, and not only ask what the other side can be doing.
Then I also came with an announcement that finally we have an agreement for the next round of the Constitutional Committee, we have now an agreement on the methodology, and I emphasized the three points that I have now agreed with the Co-Chair nominated by the government and the Co-Chair nominated by the opposition, that is: respect for the Terms of Reference, delivering of draft constitutional texts before the meetings, and that the two Co-Chairs will be meeting with me the day before the meeting and throughout the week to prepare for good and hopefully progress on the CC.
Question: Special Envoy, your Constitutional Committee process has been going on for two years now, it hasn’t achieved anything yet. What do you say to Syrians who fear that this would be yet another meeting that doesn’t reach agreement, and by having another meeting, aren’t you just dragging out a process that is already effectively dead because it has been blocked by the government side?
Mr. Pedersen: I am sure you remember I said in January after the fifth round that we cannot continue like this and that is why I have been negotiating for the past eight months, attempts to get this back on track. I think we started exactly two years ago, late October we had the first meeting, that first meeting was a good meeting, that gave a lot of promises. But then, for different reasons, I think we have gotten derailed, and my hope, and as I said to the Council, is that we are now back on track, that with the agreement that we have managed to get, that we can actually not only continue to prepare but that we can actually start to draft – and if we do this in a proper manner, I believe that that will give hope to the Syrian people. But you are absolutely right, if we fail also this time, that will be another disappointment, in the long list of disappointments for the Syrian people.
Question: Is this the last chance?
Mr. Pedersen: We can’t give up finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, but as I emphasized all along, the Constitutional Committee will not solve the crisis alone, we need it to be followed by other things and I will continue to work on that in parallel of course.
Question: I want your direct and honest thoughts on this, why would the Syrian government have any motive to compromise on a negotiation since they are militarily on the ground they are not doing bad, the opposition is in its last stronghold, diplomatically the Arab countries including Jordan, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia are racing to open up relationships with the Syrian government, and now there are talks on lifting of US sanctions, why would Syrian government have any need to compromise in these talks?
Mr. Pedersen: You are making quite a few assumptions with your questions, and I think what is important for me is to emphasize what I said already, and I emphasized in the briefing, that the situation in Syria is not sustainable and it is not in the interest of anyone to keep the situation like it is now. The country is still divided basically in three different territories, we have Daesh and other terrorist groups roaming around, and we have an economic collapse. We have refugees that haven’t started to return, we have IDPs that are still living far away from their homes, the challenges are enormous, and we need to start to address all of this. And my hope is that we can start doing that now.
Question: You are mentioned to the Security Council that it will be a very important issue tomorrow between President Erdogan and President Putin. What would you want the leaders to come out and say after tomorrow’s meeting?
Mr. Pedersen: Thank you for that question. My hope is that tomorrow’s meeting will emphasize the importance of continued calm in Syria, that we could hopefully develop that calm into what I have asked the Council for many times, for a nationwide ceasefire, and building on that, that we can start moving the political process forward, and an encouragement for the government and the opposition to sit down and to start real negotiations, that’s my hope.