Monsieur le président [François Delattre, France], dear friends, ambassadors,

Let me update you on developments and lay out some of the plans that we have for the next round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, and then brief you on some of the other potential initiatives.

We are seeing very significant developments in the fight against UN-proscribed terrorists in Syria. Raqqa has been liberated by the US-led coalition; Mayadeen by the Syrian government and its allies; and action continues to eliminate the remaining Daesh pockets in Deir-ez-Zor. By and large, the deconfliction among the parties fighting Daesh has been so far working.

But we also see Daesh retreating into the desert and launching brutal asymmetric attacks in and near Damascus. Without an inclusive political process, there is a real threat that Daesh or similar entities could return and exploit the feelings of marginalisation and grievances. That’s why we need a political process.

On another note, it is also clear that some recent public ceremonies in Raqqa did not send the right signal, indeed the wrong signal, about inclusion.

Meanwhile – apart from the southwest, where via the Amman arrangements the overall level of violence remains reduced despite some flashpoints in Beit Jinn – we are witnessing numerous reports of heavy shelling and even airstrikes. In Idleb and Hama, this might be attributed to actions by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – al Nusra. But in other areas – Eastern Ghouta, southern Damascus and the Rastan triangle – there has been a trend of re-escalation rather than de-escalation, something that many fear might intensify if energies are directed from fighting Daesh somewhere else.

Let me also register my concern: we are not seeing an increased humanitarian access, in de-escalation areas and elsewhere as we have wished, but I will leave to my colleague Mark Lowcock to actually refer to it when it will be his own turn. As you know, we have seen some shocking images which we cannot independently verify allegedly emerging indeed from Eastern Ghouta in the last few days, and again I will leave to Mark Lowcock to elaborate on that when it will be his own turn. The desired improvement on humanitarian access therefore continues to elude us, and this is due to many factors: the ongoing fighting in some areas, bureaucratic impediments or interference by parties to the conflict. Those with influence must work to enable the UN and its partners to deliver assistance by whatever modalities are available – cross-line, cross-border and regular programmes.

With a genuine sense of civic duty and commitment to support their own fellow Syrians, we are hearing constant messages coming from the civil society organisations were continuing to express alarm at the impact of the conflict on the protection of civilians, which are still being affected, including killing of civilians and the lack of humanitarian access. We all share this concern. That’s why I am raising it but again I will leave it to Mark Lowcock to elaborate on that.

So, Monsieur le président, it is a very mixed picture. Terrorism is on the defensive – but it will not be defeated by military means alone. De-escalation arrangements are being seriously sometimes challenged, but they are working. So the next Astana meeting should focus on putting the existing arrangements back on track and finalising the establishment of a proper monitoring system. And it is vital to see real action on the humanitarian front.

Monsieur le président,

Let me turn to the political process, and let’s recall that 1) any de-escalation or any other arrangements must be interim in nature and should not lead to the de facto soft partition of Syria. 2) The UN remains committed to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Syria like all of you. Our goal is the realisation of a truly nationwide ceasefire and a political process to advance the implementation of the Geneva Communique and resolution 2254. And 3) you, the members of this Council, have solely mandated the United Nations, through me as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and of yourselves to convene and advance the intra-Syrian political negotiation process for a political solution to the conflict – and no one else.

I have been carefully preparing a new round of talks therefore. Last week I was in Moscow to see the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Shoigu of the Russian Federation; and in Brussels to see the High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini to discuss with her the possibilities and the ways through which the Brussels conference in the Spring could move forward the political process by that time hopefully when it is established.

Yesterday I saw US National Security Adviser McMaster in Washington and I have just come to brief you after meeting with the US Secretary of State Tillerson here in Geneva – which is why, and I have to apologise to you, I am not able to be with you in person but I am through a VTC. While in New York I also consulted the Secretary-General earlier this week in New York and received very clear guidance. I am having now a range of other contacts, including with Syrian and regional players.

Accordingly, I wish to indicate – to you – in fact announce through this Security Council my intention to convene round 8 of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on the 28 of November. I will continue to consult all concerned in this regard right up to that day. And we intend to have [in Geneva] formal plenary meetings as well as technical discussions over a period of time.

The workplan for round 8 in Geneva will be framed by resolution 2254 and the four baskets — which each need to find an expression in a framework agreement to realize a transitional political process implementing 2254. I have asked for focus and realism because we need to get the parties into real negotiation over items where there is some prospect that they could begin to narrow the gaps and really negotiate.  Applying this logic, my considered assessment as the mediator is that, for round 8 – and I would like to ask you for your support on this – we should see if we can move some aspects of the agenda concretely forward – just far beyond exploration, and into negotiation.

Specifically, we should focus in my opinion in round 8 on two main points: one, the schedule and process to draft a new constitution; and two (and not necessarily in that order), the precise requirements for UN supervised elections as per 2254. Negotiations should all be informed by the overall framework of course of resolution 2254 – I said it already – and by the living 12 essential principles. I am ready to put on that occasion some initial thoughts to the parties as a starting point for serious negotiations.

I also believe the time has come for a serious step on detainees, abductees and missing persons – and I genuinely hope that this could emerge from the next Astana meeting. Indeed, we have made some suggestions already in advance on how to build on it; and we need to continue to push for progress however we can because that is probably one of the most important confidence-building measures that Syrians, thousands of them, would like to hear.

As we focus on negotiations on two key points – UN-supervised elections as per resolution 2254 and the constitution – we must continue discussions and preparations for negotiations on all baskets, including 1 and 4. It is hard to see how in fact this could succeed without looking at it in the context of 2254.

We will also do everything possible to ensure that we draw on the best contributions of civil society through the Civil Society Support Room that we have here and utilise women’s contributions and a gender perspective including via the Women Advisory Board, especially on the two main issues for negotiation in round 8 which I just mentioned.

Now, I need your support to move ahead based on what I said – let me first of all indicate what areas.

We hope to see a successful, focused meeting in Astana on 30 and 31 October. Regarding Astana, I flagged already the serious challenges to the de-escalation arrangements, and the importance of advancing the detainee file. We must also be ensuring humanitarian mine action moves forward. We have a common interest in preventing further unravelling of interim de-escalation and ceasefire arrangements that have been put in place. That is what Astana was always meant to be about – and that’s what we want and hope that they would be able to, rightly, achieve it completely.

Second, those with influence over the Government should now exercise their influence and focus on how to ensure that it comes to Geneva ready to negotiate. I particularly raised these points in detail in my meetings in Moscow quite intentionally.

Third, we need to see a successful Riyadh 2 meeting soon – ideally before the next Geneva, and we will continue to coordinate on that. Now, we have heard about the fact that this initiative is likely to actually take place. And we sincerely hope that the initiative that was already an initiative by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when they hosted the key meeting in 2015, and we have now a follow up in hosting Riyadh 2 meeting of the opposition, and we hope that will be proceeding accordingly.

It would be a mistake by all of us if we see the time is on our side. The best way to proceed requires indeed instead an intensified engagement amongst the key players in support of the Geneva process.

Let me note here that Syrian women’s rights advocates are calling for a minimum of 30 percent representation in the delegations of both the government and the opposition as negotiators. I urge the Syrian parties and – I do it all the time you know – and international supporters to actually strongly support this call.

Fourth, let’s remember the regional and international dimensions on Syria. I am doing my best as the mediator to consult widely, to focus international discussions on how concretely to support the Geneva process, and I frankly welcomed any suggestions from among you on how this can be done. In this regard, I welcome initiatives by which the international community could come together in supporting the UN efforts.

Finally, I wish to bring to your attention that the Russian Federation, when I was in Moscow, has briefed me regarding of their own initiative, or the initiative, or an initiative, to convene a large gathering of Syrians inside Syria, at the Hmeimim Russian military airbase, in the near future. We may perhaps hear more about this during our closed consultations, including from the Russian Permanent Representative, and I look forward to hearing that and the views of other members of the Council.

My focus in looking at this, at Riyadh, at Astana, at anything else is always the same: does it help to advance the UN-led process in Geneva as per resolution 2254 or not?

So, here are some bottom lines:

  • One, it is time to move on the political track. It’s really a plastic special moment. Let’s use it. After Raqqa, after Deir ez-Zor, I used to say as you probably remember it is a moment of true now it is the moment of true.
  • Astana next week should focus on the key Astana tasks.
  • Those with influence on the Government should press it now to be ready finally to negotiate the substance in Geneva.
  • The same applies to those with influence on the opposition, and the meeting in Riyadh for the opposition should take place as soon as possible and lead to a constructive and proactive outcome.
  • We need active international engagement in support of Geneva.
  • Round 8 is planned for 28 of November.
  • We will try to move into real negotiations on constitution and UN-supervised elections as per resolution 2254.
  • We should in parallel of course keep exploring the issue of governance and terrorism files.
  • And we should view any initiative, any initiative basically, by virtue of whether it contributes to UN-led political process in Geneva that you have mandated me to pursue on behalf of the Secretary-General and of yourselves.

This would be my summary of if I could express a bottom line list of wishes. I finish with this.

Merci, Monsieur le président.​

Video of Briefing (English)