At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, gave a briefing to a handful of reporters on the state of the Syrian crisis.
He addressed plans for “freeze zones,” calling for a cessation of violence that would allow for increased delivery of humanitarian assistance. Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who also attended the briefing, said northern Syria would see a “saturation” of aid deliveries if the freeze zones were observed.
De Mistura’s comments come as a new round of peace talks began in Moscow on Monday between the regime and members of the opposition. The following is an abridged transcription of his remarks.
The level of destruction in Syria is enormous, and we are reaching a point when we are wondering whether this country can sustain this further. Nothing has worked so far to avoid the continuation of this conflict. We haven’t obtained a solution. The only ones who have been suffering, and the only people who are victims, are the people of Syria. That’s why we are looking for a different approach. Everyone should recognize publicly and privately what we all know: there is no military solution. We have to work this year for a political formula. There is someone else who is waiting around the corner, a few kilometers from Aleppo and a few kilometers from the border, and that is ISIS – the one who could take advantage of this conflict and is already doing so.
When you ask the Syrian people what they want, the most urgent thing they say they want is a reduction of violence. They aren’t looking for a solution at the moment. If we can produce cease-fire – freezes, in the way we believe are correct – all over the country, in Aleppo and elsewhere, we will be giving a signal that there is hope for reducing violence and therefore a political dialogue.
We welcome what is going to happen in Moscow and Cairo because any type of beginning of discussion among and between the Syrians is something we have to support. Will this produce a political [solution]? We will see. What we can certainly say is that we can’t afford to simply wait for it to continue like last year. From a U.N. point of view, we will strive in that direction. We have a fundamental duty to reduce violence. The people are exhausted and perhaps the people involved in the conflict are tired. Syria’s neighboring countries have been flooded by refugees, and the economic situation in the country is catastrophic. We just had the president of the ICRC with us, and he very correctly said that, in a tragic environment, any type of reduction of violence – even if it is a very painful one and imperfect one like the cease-fires were – is better than nothing, and I can’t disagree with him.
I’ve been to Homs. I’ve seen the level of destruction. If that was a cease-fire, I can tell you it’s something I don’t wish for Aleppo. That’s why the U.N. has been proposing a freeze – the name is different. The freeze is different for several reasons: the freeze is stopping the fighting, it’s not “surrendering” or giving up weapons.
For the moment, we are simply asking to stop the fighting. That will give us the opportunity to increase humanitarian aid on both sides, and give hope to those who believe that confidence-building measures can lead to a political process, which is beginning to happen but is still based on distrust. This distrust can be beaten with confidence-building measures like this one. Regarding the political dialogue that is starting to take place in Cairo and Moscow, the basis of every discussion cannot be just Geneva II. We are in 2015 and a lot has happened since the Geneva Communiqué. For example, we didn’t have ISIS in the time of the Geneva Communiqué. It needs to be interpreted according to reality. There is ample space to do that provided there is a dialogue, and the recognition by everyone that no one is winning.
When I proposed the freeze in October, I also said you will see the devil is in the details. We are having an ongoing discussion, including with the government, on how to make it happen. I would find it difficult for us to ever give up on the issue that Aleppo needs to be saved … it is so iconic, and ISIS is just 20 kilometers away, waiting to take over.
We don’t give up. This is not the first time that a cease-fire or freeze has required a lot of discussion, and we will continue to do so.