France urges swift resumption of Syria peace negotiations

Syria – Statements by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, during his joint press conference with Mr Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria

Paris, 10 February 2017

Once again, I had a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, firstly to show him – as I told him, but I’ll repeat to you – France’s support for his mission. It’s a mediation mission, which he’s carrying out with great courage and perseverance. And it provided an opportunity to take stock of developments in the Syria crisis, before the resumption of the inter-Syrian negotiations, which we’ve been urging for a long time. They’re due to get under way again in Geneva on 20 February 2017.

We all know that the situation on the ground remains critical. Amnesty International’s report was published a few days ago and mentions the situation in Syrian prisons and the horrific acts committed by the Syrian regime. It reminds us of the horror of this conflict, which has gone on so long, killed so many and destroyed so much, and resulted in so many refugees.

Every day, we’re increasingly mobilizing to bring about a real cessation of hostilities on the ground and so that the political transition can be implemented, because there’s no other option. At any rate, this is what France firmly believes.

The agreement on the cessation of hostilities, which was concluded in Astana, has begun by markedly reducing the level of hostilities. But there are still too many violations of this truce, of which the stakeholders in Astana presented themselves as guarantors.

Admittedly, we’re waiting for these parties to implement the decisions taken in Astana. This is what I again repeated to our Russian, Turkish and Iranian interlocutors. But it must clearly be noted that these violations are being committed above all by the regime, even though it benefits from support, in particular from Iranian or Iran-backed militia.

We’re also seeing how very difficult it is for humanitarian aid to get through – the regime is blocking it. In January, only one humanitarian convoy arrived safely, which means that 900,000 people are still awaiting aid. That’s how things are on the ground, and, I repeat, it’s imperative for the truce to be fully observed and for all people in need of this humanitarian aid to benefit from it.

There’s a humanitarian imperative, but also a moral and political one. If there’s inadequate progress, the negotiation we’re urging won’t get off to an auspicious start, and this is an absolute priority for us.

France would like these negotiations to resume swiftly, but also – as we said after the Astana meeting – under the aegis of the United Nations, because the international community is guarantor of the political transition process. And we’d like the discussion and subsequent negotiation to be conducted not just on the basis of the Geneva Declaration but also Security Council Resolution 2254.

This basis was agreed by the international community. It’s an essential starting point for a vital transition to bring peace to the country. And bringing peace to the country is also an essential contribution to making the fight against terrorism a success.

We’re engaged in the fight against terrorism, in the international American-led coalition. In a few weeks’ time, we’ll have another meeting in Washington with the members of that coalition in order to take stock.

And we know that the new American authorities are very determined to fight Daesh [so-called ISIL] and the other groups, such as al-Nusra in Syria. This is what we firmly believe too; it seems necessary to us.

But at the same time we firmly believe that there won’t be lasting success in the fight against terrorism if we can’t build a peaceful political transition in Syria. Otherwise there will always remain pockets of resistance and breeding grounds for continued fighting by terrorist groups, which break up and regroup. So there needs to be coherence in the way all the simultaneous battles for peace are conducted.

These negotiations must be credible and the parties must come in good faith because we’ve experienced disappointments in the past. In Geneva last year, the regime, through its intransigence, made any dialogue impossible. Today, its attitude makes us fear a repeat of this kind of scenario.

This is why we’re expecting a great deal from all partners – and particularly Russia and Iran, and also the Turks, who are warring parties to varying degrees on the ground – so that they play their part to the full. They need to make the regime see sense, so that the representatives of the opposition and representatives of the regime can get round the table and negotiate, I repeat, in good faith.

This is why France has stepped up contacts with the Russians, with Sergei Lavrov – whom I regularly talk to – in the past few days and weeks. But I’ve also been to Iran and Saudi Arabia and spoken to the new American Secretary of State, which I’ll be doing again in Bonn next week. We’re stepping up contacts to recreate the conditions for hope of a negotiation.

As regards the opposition, it’s desirable for the negotiators to be representative of the opposition’s diversity – of course, with the High Negotiations Committee, led by Riyad Hijab, and I’d like him swiftly to form a delegation which is inclusive and brings groups together. This should include, in particular, not just representatives of the armed groups which were involved in the truce agreement, but also other opposition figures who share the same goal, that of a democratic transition in Syria.

We must agree to make gestures to ensure everyone is happy. This at any rate is what we’re recommending for the negotiations with the High [Negotiations] Committee, which is currently meeting in Riyadh. Everyone must demonstrate – I repeat, once again – their sincerity and goodwill. And I know Riyad Hijab well, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting him frequently, but I think he has a role to play so that this delegation is as broad and inclusive as possible.

Once again, I’ll end, as I began, by thanking Staffan de Mistura. I know that he has an extraordinarily difficult task. But he has great courage and conviction, as I’ve already said and repeat again. And France wholeheartedly supports and trusts him./.

Published on 21/02/2017

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