Thank you Mr Secretary-General for your strong and supportive introduction to this debate,
Your Excellency Foreign Minister McCully, Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,
It is precisely the immensity of the human suffering as just described by the Secretary-General and yesterday by our colleague USG O'Brien that commands us to seek out even the remotest possibility for a political solution, even if, and we heard it, sadly the logic of assuming a military victory by anyone, which is impossible, continues. And barrel bombs and other indiscriminate weapons continue to kill Syrian civilians.
On 5 May, based on instructions from the Secretary-General, we unrolled the Geneva Consultations. It’s a new form of avoiding getting cornered in a conference which then gets us straight-jacketed, it is a set of structured separate discussions with Syrian and non-Syrian players aimed at "stress testing" any willingness, if there is any, of narrowing the gaps in interpretation of the principles contained in the Geneva Communiqué, which is still, let’s be frank, the internationally only recognized framework for a settlement, even if still ambiguous in some parts. To-date Consultations with over 200 different individuals, actually 216, -Syrians and non-Syrians- in Geneva and in capitals, reveal a generally shared sense of urgency given especially the recent gains by Daesh and al-Nusra Front, the talk of some de facto fragmentation, radicalization and sectarianism. There is thus growing reference to the need for a managed, phased, gradual controlled transition, to avoid a repeat of what no one in this Council would like to se, the problems we have had in Libya and in Iraq.
Consultations too have reaffirmed that most Syrians and international actors agree on what Syria should look like, and the relevance of the principles and content of the Geneva Communique. It was three years ago, and it is still valid. Syrians overall emphasize their own vision for a united, sovereign, independent -they’re very proud people-, non-sectarian, multi-confessional, all-inclusive state with territorial integrity, preserved but reformed state institutions, such as the Ministries -as we have seen in Iraq that was the biggest problem we faced when suddenly many institutions disappeared in one moment of the change-, including the political, security and judiciary sectors led by those who can inspire public confidence and trust.
Yet, there is disagreement -Mr Secretary-General said it very clearly- on how to get there much based on the different narratives, one as to the root causes of the conflict and emerging priorities. The fear of black flags over Damascus is driving many to consider reassessing their own earlier positions. Yet, many continue to consider also that the conflict continues to be about the Arab Spring calls for a change. There is a firm recognition that counter-terrorism is now definitely a priority. However, many are also wondering -both Syrians and member states- that n order to assert that type of counter-terrorism, there is a need for a credible new government with whom they can partner in that effort.
While common ground exists, the question over the devolution of executive authority to a transitional body -let’s be honest with ourselves- remains the most polarizing element of the Communique. For some, this means that the TGB -transitional governing body- is an instrument to hand over power. Some political and armed opposition groups generally reject any notion of power-sharing with the current government in Damascus. The Syrian government has accepted in theory to discuss the TGB at the Geneva II Conference but continues to reject the concept as unconstitutional.
It is still broadly understood that, whatever the solution, it should ensure the "meaningfulness and irreversibility of the transition" and a widely acceptable process, without causing an abrupt jolt, shock, trauma, catastrophe, in the system in Syria - we cannot afford that. And that should also include assurances for Syrian communities -and there are many minorities who have been under threat- and regional stakeholders and guarantees that the Syrian people are part of the decision-making - including, let me stress it, especially women. We met remarkable Syrian women in our Geneva Consultations who haver been giving us often the most powerful concept and analysis we have heard.
Sadly there is still no consensus on the way forward on the Communique or yet a formalized even negotiation - we would not be discussing it here otherwise, we would be working on the negotiation. At the same time, given the deepening tragedy- the UN is obliged -and all of us are- to keep the issue alive, to not leave any stone unturned, also attuned to ongoing serious conversations and discussions which are taking place, and we are hearing them, around the region and elsewhere, which may require perhaps more time, and may be linked with developments that the Secretary-General just referred to.
We have thus strived to develop recommendations, guided by the views and analysis shared with us during the Consultations. This is the first time by the way that the Syrian people have been given a chance, they told us, to be deeply and intensely consulted - after all we always say this is a Syrian-led , Syrian-involved process, well this was the opportunity. Our recommendations are predicated on the need for a regional and international consensus - and sustained engagement- on a way forward.
In responding to the Secretary-General's instruction therefore that we should try to "operationalise the Geneva Communique", together with my team we have consulted widely inside and around; and verified if there was critical mass for common action, and ultimately tried to visualize, from a technical point of view, the implementation of the Geneva Communique, in all its aspects, including the TGB. And we have come up with a detailed formula for the phased implementation of the Geneva Communique, so there is no alibi in case there was -and there will be- a political consensus, including on the TGB, which could assume the functions of a government, a definition of mutual consent, which was in the Geneva Communiqué, the functioning of a military council and Syrian National Congress for national dialogue and constitutional reform, combined with confidence-building measures.
Ours is a straightforward interpretation formula for the implementation of the Communique. Regretfully, the Consultations also confirmed that achieving an agreement on this is difficult in the current Syrian context. In fact, many urged us not convene a Geneva III conference yet, because we are not yet there.
But, we cannot let the situation in Syria continue to drift. And that’s why based on the appeal and the urge of the Secretary-General, we need to move in a direction where Syrians come together to stop the violence and set out an irreversible path towards a genuine political transition. Which leads us to our main Recommendation.
The Geneva Consultations got Syrians to again start talking to each other, sometimes indirectly through us, but they did. What I am today proposing is actually a deepening, getting much deeper, of those issues in the Geneva Communiqué which are not so controversial, and analyzing those that can be controversial. I now intend to invite therefore Syrians to parallel, simultaneous, thematic discussions through intra-Syrian working groups addressing the key aspects of the Geneva Communique, as identified by them in the first phase of the Consultations:
- Safety and Protection for All: which means including ending sieges, how to do so, ensuring medical access and releasing detainees;
- Political and Constitutional Issues: including the essential principles, transitional governing body and elections;
- Military and Security Issues: including combatting terrorism in an effective inclusive way, cease-fires, and integration;
- Public Institutions, Reconstruction and Development: which means we should to try to avoid as we said what happened in Iraq and elsewhere where suddenly institutions disappeared and the country got into a major difficulty. Those institutions should continue to deliver public services under a top leadership acceptable to all, and acting in accordance with principles of good government and human rights.
These working groups will start generating movement, we believe, towards a Syrian-owned Framework Document on the implementation of the Geneva Communique. These efforts can build on the very useful meetings that took place in Moscow, in Cairo, in Paris, and even in Astana recently and many track II initiatives. This effort should be led by a Steering committee and the Framework Document will also provide for a transitional governing body, procedures for a national dialogue, and so on. Such an international initiative will require the support of a Contact Group, and we will get there at the right time.
In all of the above I seek this Council's support, as the Secretary-General has said, and stand ready to regularly report to you and to the Secretary-General, on progress or challenges, which we will definitively have.
Mr Secretary-General, Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,
The Consultations have gone some way towards identifying existing common ground. They also still hold the promise that a set of formal negotiations could convene after preparing the ground, if there is a political will. The Geneva Consultations have been loud and clear on the profound risks of failing to act now, including the increasing risk of a multi-generational conflict that, with each passing month, reduces the prospects of ever restoring Syria as a unified state, let alone making it even harder to establish a political process.
In closing Mr. President, let me thank the Secretary-General again for being with us today, showing his strong commitment about the issue that is in front of us, and the Secretariat, and the members of the Security Council for their continuous support for our difficult, uphill, difficult, but needed mission. I am obviously ready to go into details more in a separate meeting later on.