UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan De Mistura opening remarks to Astana meeting 23 January 2017 (as delivered)

Thank you, Foreign Minister Abdrakhmanov — for hosting this International Meeting on Syrian Settlement here in Astana. This morning, I conveyed to H.E. President Nazarbayev the appreciation of the Secretary-General for the efforts undertaken by Kazakhstan to help restore peace and stability in Syria. And his appreciation for the invitation to the UN to be here.

Presidential Envoy Lavrentiev of the Russian Federation, Deputy Minister Ansari of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Deputy Undersecretary Önal of Turkey – thank you for your engagement. You represent three very important countries. Your initiative to take on responsibilities as sponsors of this Astana meeting and guarantors of the ceasefire regime is significant and welcome. We need to build on this.

Ambassador Krol, thank you for this important statement, done in your capacity as an observer, thank you for being here to represent the United States, now under new Administration, and always a key player in the search for peace in Syria.

Above all, thank you representatives of the Government of Syria, and representatives from the Syrian opposition for being here today in this room. I know being here is not been easy. But I am sure that the vast majority of the Syrian people are glad that you have come, and that you are sitting here in the same room, while still disagreeing, but being an opportunity of exchanging your own position. The only way to end the conflict and secure a political solution is negotiation, and negotiation among the Syrians.

Syrian people are desperately in need for ending this violence, and they are looking forward to relief from their own suffering, and a path out of this conflict and to a real future for all of them, men, women and children in dignity. I know how proud Syrians are, and how proud they are to be Syrian, and of their beautiful country, a country that has made historically so many important contributions to human civilisation.

Twice last month the Security Council adopted resolutions unanimously. This is a good sign for all of us. We are now gathered today here, and I hope it will be possible to associate also all regional actors with this effort, and the outcome of this effort.

In December, the Government of Syria and important armed opposition groups have agreed to a ceasefire regime. This followed the initiative of Russia, Turkey and Iran to work together, and to contributing to actually relaunching, through the ceasefire, the political process in Geneva, as envisaged in the Security Council resolutions, in particular, including resolution 2254.

The Security Council welcomed the ceasefire, and so did also the Secretary-General of the UN.

The violence has dropped in Syria. But it has not ended yet. For instance we have seen cases more recently of strong tensions in many places, but in particular in Wadi Barada, jeopardising access to water for residents of Damascus and neighbouring areas. The violence has dropped, but we must do better.

Protection of civilians –men and women- must be a crucial priority. All parties should protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, water and electricity networks, and areas such as markets.

Sieges are totally unacceptable methods of warfare that cause civilians to be deprived from food, medicines and other essential items. Safe and sustained and unimpeded access to people in need, in particular to besieged areas, and unhindered access for medical teams to enter these areas to treat civilians and evacuate urgent cases, is an extremely important element and should be a consequence of a ceasefire.

Every ceasefire attempted in Syria in the past has broken down, that’s why we put so much hope in what you have been able to achieve so far. The objective is human lives, and many lives, we want to believe, have already been saved by the ceasefire that was announced by President Putin and President Erdogan with the support of Iran recently, and was agreed upon by the Government of Syria and many participants of the opposition.

All stakeholders should support the commitment of the sides that are party to the ceasefire that entered into force in December 2016. All other armed opposition groups not affiliated to terror organisations designated as such by the Security Council, in addition to groups allied with the Government, should also listen to the call to abide by the ceasefire.

The chances of success will be greater if the parties here are able to agree on a mechanism to oversee and implement nationwide ceasefire. A mechanism to oversee and implement a nationwide ceasefire – we didn’t have it in the past, that’s the reason why often we failed. We are encouraging the guarantors of the ceasefire to create a mechanism to implement the consolidation and de-confliction ceasefire measures, and to see what else can be done to build confidence.

Consolidating the ceasefire will also enable Syrians and the international community to increase their efficiency in their fight against the groups designated as terrorists by the Security Council.

My instructions from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are clear: To be helpful, proactively helpful, and we will. Help the Syrians and the guarantors here in Astana to succeed, because if Astana succeeds, Syrians succeed, and the UN will have a better chance of re-launching effective intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva.

Consolidating a nationwide ceasefire is only the first step. No sustainable, long-term solution to the conflict in Syria can be attained through only military means, but through a political process. Both sides need to accept that and renounce their objective of using military means.

The UN remains guided by Security Council resolution 2254, the only, so far, viably internationally agreed basis for a political solution and peace making process. Its core principle is foster a cessation of hostilities in parallel with the political process that is comprehensive and inclusive, and where women and civil society play an active role.

In addition to being helpful here, by us in Astana, our intention is also to convene as soon as possible formal –and if possible- direct intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva on a political solution as outlined in the resolutions of the Security Council, including resolution 2254. I want to do this as soon as possible in February.

I would hope that by strengthening the ceasefire in this Astana meeting we could see in Geneva genuine intra-Syrian negotiations – and I would hope direct negotiations between empowered and inclusive delegations of the Government and the opposition to take place.

I would like to see those negotiations focusing on a serious agenda based on resolution 2254: governance, constitution, elections are all part of such agenda, in a language that has been very clearly interpreted by Security Council resolutions.

So we must hope for Astana to consolidate a cessation of hostilities, and we must use Geneva for the genuine relaunching of political negotiations to address the core issues of the conflict.

But first things first. Let us address now today and tomorrow the challenges to the ceasefire, try to consolidate it, and see what can be done to begin to build a small amount of confidence between the parties, and of the Syrians in this process. That by itself, Mr Chairman, would be a major achievement.

Let’s not lose sight of the horizon to which all Syrians are aspiring: the release of detainees and abducted people, the safe return of Syrian refugees and IDPs -men and women-, a return to normal life everywhere, and the full functioning of basic State institutions and infrastructure – we don’t want another Libya. Once a credible process is under way to effect a fundamental overhaul of governance in Syria, the international community should mobilise to help revive the economy and reconstruct the country. This prospect must also guide us through our discussions.

Dear friends, we heard today two opposing advocates, of the tragic situation in Syria. We want to believe that in spite of this, there is a common, genuine yearning of all Syrians to stop this tragedy. That’s why we want to thank you for committing and supporting this meeting and we look forward to contributing to it.

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