Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura (right) and Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala of Syria arriving for the Geneva consultations on Syria at UN Headquarters. UN Photo/Violaine Martin
“This is not Geneva III,” said Mr. de Mistura during a press briefing in which he pointed to “limited progress” made so far in finding a political solution to the crisis and in stopping the fighting in certain areas. He made reference to two previous Geneva-based rounds of multi-party talks on the Syria crisis.
“These are closed, low-key, separate, structured discussions with the parties, to consult on the current crisis in Syria, the road ahead and the final destination of a Syria at peace with itself. This is the necessary ground work before we even get to a negotiating table.”
Rather than producing their own outcome document, the talks, which began today, are aimed at ‘operationalizing’ the Geneva Communiqué, he said, adding that “as many actors … as possible” had been invited in order to establish whether it might be feasible to start a new round of formal negotiations further down the line.
The Communiqué was adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on 30 June 2012, and since endorsed by the UN Security Council.
The document lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.
Today, Mr. de Mistura said that 40 Syrian groups, in addition to the Government of Syria, will participate in the fresh talks, along with about 20 regional and international actors, including the neighbouring countries and the five permanent members of the Security Council.
“The first meetings are starting already,” said Mr. de Mistura, adding that he expected them to continue for an initial five to six weeks but that no cut-off date had been applied. “This is a rolling process which will be expanded, as necessary, with additional players and actors to be consulted as we move along.”
While informal, low-key and necessarily taking place “away from the public eye,” the talks represent a “very intense and serious effort,” in line with the Security Council’s wish that another attempt to politically resolve the conflict should be made “even if the odds of success are low.”
“The only way is to test the willingness of the parties to narrow the gaps,” said Mr. de Mistura. “Indeed, when it comes to Syria, there is never a perfect moment for talks. Yet this is no excuse for us to wait while Syrian victims are reduced to statistics.”
He outlined the context of an intensifying conflict that had entered its fifth year and which had continued for three years since the original Geneva Communiqué, worsening the tragedy for the Syrian people as recent weeks saw their situation become even more grave.
“We remain alert to any opportunity to reduce violence,” he said, and outlined a series of international efforts to move along the political track, including the Moscow I and II talks, another meeting in Cairo and the ‘freeze’ proposed by the Special Envoy. “It has not worked as conditions were not conducive. But it is still on the table for when and if the parties and region feel ready, in Aleppo or anywhere else.”
He stressed also the futility of continued combat, and the international community’s responsibility to bring forward the day when it ended.
“We do not have the luxury not to try,” Mr. de Mistura said. “Guns will fall silent one day – it is inevitable as has been seen in countless other conflicts. The sooner they fall silent, the more lives will be saved.”