Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura briefed the Security Council behind closed doors earlier this week on the outcomes of the fourth round of Syria talks in Geneva. Mr. de Mistura told journalists that the talks, which ran from 23 February to 3 March, had not produced any miracles, but that “we did not expect any miracles.” Nonetheless, he continued, the negotiations had achieved much more than many had imagined, including some agreement on substance.
The Special Envoy announced that he intended to bring the parties together in Geneva for a fifth round with a target date of 23 March.
In an unusual move, and given the great interest in the talks, the Special Envoy distributed to journalists the briefing he had just given to the Security Council in closed session. Politically Speaking is reproducing here the document in full.
Staffan de Mistura
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria
Briefing to the Security Council
8 March 2017
1. Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council following the fourth round of intra-Syrian talks that concluded in Geneva last Friday, 3 March 2017. I will be releasing this briefing publicly as an aide to the invitees and all interested Syrians, as well as to the wider international community, so that all can understand what took place in Geneva and what lies ahead. And I am glad to be briefing you on International Women’s Day, since the voices and influence of Syrian women must be felt in this process.
2. The talks were conducted with the encouragement of the Security Council, which on 31 January 2017 urged me to re-convene negotiations. The invitation letter recalled the Security Council’s urging of the Syrian parties to participate in good faith and without preconditions, and its reaffirmation that the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process based on the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012 as endorsed by Security Council resolution 2118 (2013), Security Council resolutions 2254 (2015), 2268 (2016) and 2336 (2016), and relevant statements of the International Syria Support Group.
3. Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) specifically mandates the Special Envoy to convene representatives of the Government of Syria and the opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process. In that context, the focus of the agenda set out in the invitation letter was operative paragraph 4 of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).
4. The invitations also recalled that the ceasefire regime announced on 29 December 2016 and the follow-up efforts in Astana had made significant contributions to jumpstarting the political process in Geneva and would remain important to ensure conducive conditions for genuine negotiations, as recognized by this Council. Thus, I continued to consult throughout the round on how to ensure that the Astana and Geneva efforts reinforce each other, in particular on the issues identified in paragraphs 12, 13 and 14 of resolution 2254 (2015), in strengthening the ceasefire, and regarding combatting terrorism as stated in resolution 2254 and pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2249 (2015) and 2253 (2015).
The course of the talks
5. I thank the Syrian invitees for accepting my invitation, for engaging on procedure and substance, and for participating at the outset together in a symbolic welcoming ceremony in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations on 23 February 2017.
6. The photo of that event captures the moment when the invitees in the intra-Syrian talks sat together in one room - under the UN emblem - for the first time in three years. All representatives of this Council and of the International Syria Support Group were witnesses. With me on the podium as part of my advisory team were Syrian women representing civil society. This moment sent an important signal to all Syrians that a political process is possible and has finally been reconvened.
7. In my first bilateral meetings following the opening ceremony, I shared a set of initial thoughts on procedural issues while signaling my desire to move ahead with genuine engagement on the substance. The procedural issues related to how we intended to deal with the specific agenda for governance, constitution-making and elections as per 2254, the relevant process design and methodology, issues of timelines and sequencing, and how any additional basket of issues might be handled.
8. The talks which followed were not always easy. However, I can report that the invitees engaged constructively in increasingly intensive discussions on procedure and substance with me and my team. Invitees agreed to receive a non-paper on principles and expert presentations on issues in the baskets. These are all issues that touch upon a transitional political process. Invitees therefore engaged in substance on the agenda presented by the UN, and in some cases gave initial reactions.
Commonalities and principles
9. There was one early point of common ground. All invitees confirmed that the talks should not start from scratch, and instead build upon the achievements of the three rounds held in 2016. This allows me to affirm the common ground identified in last year’s points of commonalities and mediator’s summary papers produced after rounds two and three. This also allowed me during this fourth round to build upon this with a twelve-point non-paper that captured certain essential principles. I was satisfied with the reactions to these principles, and feel there is a broad area of common meeting of the minds regarding the type of Syria that all invitees may want to see one day. These principles can continue to evolve as a living set of points. They can also serve to guide me as the mediator in shepherding the effort. I did not at this stage seek any formal agreement, not least because the important thing is to focus on the real substance at stake. Therefore, I am not publicly releasing them at this time, and may continue to refine them.
10. It was clear and not disputed that the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva are aimed at implementing resolution 2254. As the mediator, it is my view and expectation that the sides should aim at a framework agreement containing a political package so that a negotiated transitional political process can be implemented in accordance with the clear sequencing and target timelines set out in resolution 2254.
11. To achieve this goal, a clear agenda has emerged consisting of four baskets – three baskets as per my invitation letter plus a new additional basket added during the round. Each is to my mind framed by the goal I have just described and contributes to developing the overall political package for a negotiated transitional political process to unfold in Syria:
· Basket 1 addresses all issues related to the establishment, within a target of six months, of credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance.
· Basket 2 addresses all issues related to setting, within a target of six month, a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.
· Basket 3 addresses all issues related to ensuring that free and fair elections, pursuant to a new constitution, can be held within 18 months and administered under the supervision of the UN, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
· The new basket 4 addresses (within the context of the overall transitional political process) issues related to counter-terrorism and security governance, and also confidence-building measures.
12. We have elaborated with the sides elements that could be covered in the workstream in each basket. Expert UN inputs have mapped to varying degrees substantive issues that would need to be addressed. Basket 1 should address the functions, elements and institutions of credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, their membership and decision-making, their powers and relations to other institutions, governance practices and policies and mechanisms, and the mechanisms and legal basis to ensure implementation. Basket 2 should address the type of constitutional drafting process by the Syrians that would be set up such as a special commission, how a national conference or national dialogue could play a role, what public consultation and revision could take place on a draft, and how a draft would be formally approved by Syrians. Basket 3 should identify the balloting events that would take place, how elections would be administered, what UN supervision would entail, what free and fair elections according to highest international standards would require, and how to ensure eligibility of all Syrians including members of the diaspora to participate.Basket 4 should be informed by UN standards, such as the pillars of the UN counter-terrorism strategy, and address strategic counter-terrorism issues well as security sector governance. Thus, this basket could address internal and external conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, preventing and combatting terrorism, ensuring state capacity to address terrorism, and upholding the rule of law and human rights while fighting terrorism -- including in state institutions, and in particular security institutions. Issues of unity of command over armed forces, powers of and oversight of security agencies, credible and effective police forces, and dealing with foreign fighters and forces could all be usefully addressed. So could confidence-building measures.
13. Let me clarify that these are not as far as the UN understands the same issues as those to be addressed in the Astana effort. The UN strongly supports Astana in addressing the crucial issue of maintaining the ceasefire regime announced on 29 December. Likewise, any immediate operational counter-terrorism issues can be dealt with there, in Astana not in Geneva.
14. I also look to the coming meeting in Astana to do everything possible to find practical measures of confidence-building, such as securing releases of arbitrarily detained persons, and also ensuring unhindered humanitarian access. There were quite a few interactions on these issues in Geneva. I also want to make clear that in Geneva we will continue to address in the framework of the ISSG Humanitarian Task Force issues of humanitarian access. We will also pursue a systematic and sustained approach to the issue detainees, missing persons, and other confidence-building measures, as called for in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).
15. Let me also indicate as I did to the invitees that if and as substantive talks on the four baskets deepens, additional baskets on reconstruction and international support for a negotiated transitional political package could be added in due course.
16. Within the intra-Syrian talks process, as far as the UN is concerned, we aim to address the baskets in parallel. This at least means that:
· Each basket will contain its own work stream;
· We address all four baskets in-depth in each round;
· The mediator will not allow any party to prevent discussion of a basket;
· The sequencing of meetings to discuss baskets does not denote the sequence of implementation of any agreed package;
· Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed unless the sides decide otherwise;
· Any framework agreement would be a package from a comprehensive negotiation.
17. I urge the invitees to prepare actively for the next round of talks on all baskets. I intend to actively mediate in proximity talks, as by the way is done in Astana. Workstreams in the baskets will be pursued in formal meeting with the United Nations, as well as technical discussions, and possibly working groups, expert committees, or other arrangements, depending on the complexity of the issues, the preferences of the sides, and what I assess can be fruitful.
18. As we proceed in proximity mode, we will continue to explore every opportunity for direct meetings on all issues on the agenda, or on specific issues where appropriate.
Progress re opposition
19. In this context, I am also pleased to note that, with our active encouragement, important progress was made before this round toward the needed basis for a single opposition delegation to participate in direct negotiations with the Government of Syria. Significant dialogue and contact among invitees on this matter continued during round 4 in Geneva.
20. I will continue encouraging efforts in this direction, and work for finalizing efforts to this end within the context of resolution 2254. There should at the very least be cooperation among the opposition invitees in a manner that promote the effectiveness of the process. I hope that a clear agenda for the talks process will play its part in assisting the opposition in its diversity to overcome whatever differences remain. Let everyone note that success in this endeavor lies in many hands, not just mine.
21. Beyond the invitees to the talks, this round of talks re-engaged Syrian women and Syrian civil society in the peace process, in ways that we have to build on. I strongly reiterated my commitment to ensuring the inclusion of diverse voices of Syrian women in the process through sustained consultation and dialogue. I reiterated my request to all invitees to ensure full and effective participation of women in their teams in accordance with Security Council resolution 1325. Meanwhile, I convened and worked closely throughout the round with the Women Advisory Board, who directly advise me and my team before and after the sessions.
22. My office also activated the Civil Society Support Room to accompany the process and enable a broad cross-section of Syrian civil society to be present in Geneva. This enabled me and my colleagues to consult with a range of Syrian civil society individuals and organisations with a humanitarian and human rights background. We were also able to consult Syrian legal and economic experts, primarily academics and former civil servants, from both inside and outside Syria. Their voices brought many perspectives, and also gave us useful expert insights.
Next steps and required support
23. What is the way ahead? I am in New York to brief you but also to consult the Secretary-General, which will be later this week. It is my intention to reconvene the invitees for a 5th round with a target date of 23 March, with invitees to arrive 22 March.
24. In support of the talks process, I need your help. First, I would welcome this Council sending a clear signal that the outcomes of this round of intra-Syrian talks have your full support. The agenda now set should be fully backed. We cannot accept any back-sliding. You should know that I was quite prepared to adjourn meetings if no serious engagement was taking place on the baskets in the round that just passed, and that will continue. And I will not hesitate to explain why.
25. Second, the invitees should be preparing for intensive and substantive discussion on the baskets in the fifth round. I hope they will come with constructive inputs and fresh thinking where that is needed. That is what a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process ideally would require. But if they do not, the UN will continue to stimulate them with inputs.
26. Third, I appeal to those convening the Astana meeting next week to address urgently the challenges to the ceasefire. And I urge all states with influence to use that influence now with the conflicting parties. Since mid-February, we have witnessed several worrisome developments that can be classified either as typical spoiler acts, or escalatory steps in contested areas that are of strategic interest to the parties to the ceasefire. This surge in violence is killing more civilians, and has the potential to undermine confidence in the 29 December 2016 ceasefire agreement. There is an urgent need for an effective working mechanism on verification, prevention, or correction on the ground. The UN will be present and active in the Astana meeting to support the principal players address these challenges.
27. Fourth, humanitarian access must be safe, unhindered and sustainable, especially in besieged and hard to reach areas, on the basis of needs assessed by the UN and its humanitarian partners. All parties to the conflict must meet their obligations under international humanitarian law.
28. Fifth, let us remember the enormous task of bringing about a return of those who have fled and the reconstruction of Syria once a political solution is reached. The ministerial-level conference that will take place in Brussels less than a month from now will focus on the implementation of pledges and commitments made in London last year, on supporting the resilience of millions of refugees and host communities in neighboring countries, but will also begin to look a possible concerted path forward on early rehabilitation and future reconstruction needs – if and only if a credible and genuine transitional process has firmly taken place. A well-coordinated approach to reconstruction needs can be a powerful incentive to all to replace guns with bricks and mortars, boost regional economies, and enable the return of the displaced to their homes.
29. Sixth, let us plainly acknowledge that, while the solution must be Syrian led and owned, Syria’s future is not, tragically, only in Syrian hands. Syrians from all walks of life remind me of this on a daily basis. I appreciated the assistance of many active diplomatic counterparts during the fourth round. If we are to go further, every important outside player needs to make a firm and unequivocal decision not to pursue the illusion – the fantasy as I said in Geneva – of a military solution, or to foster that illusion among Syrians. All must recognize that only a political solution can produce a sustainable future for Syria. This requires a solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. The Syrians must recognize this, and so must outsiders.
30. On this International Women’s Day, I want to try to capture what I heard from Syrian women, and also Syrian civil society, during this fourth round. Here is what they tell me: Syria and Syrians are sick of this conflict; they are devastated at what has befallen their country; they demand that their voices be heard; they want Syria’s destiny to be in Syrian hands; theyhave a huge amount to contribute to peace not war; they know the difficulties but want these UN talks to work; and, above all, they call on all of you to support this mediation process and help it succeed. I hope this Council hears these voices, and that everyone now acts accordingly.
Thank you, Mr. President.