These have been tough days of work for Syria, here in Brussels. The news of the horrific chemical attack in Idlib’s region came in as we were about to open the international Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region – a conference we chaired together with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, with the participation of more than 70 countries and international organisations.
The news from Idlib have reminded the world that the war in Syria continues, as tragic and terrible as ever. So the message we sent from the Conference and the work we have managed to do together are even more important.
In Brussels we took three decisions, together.
First and foremost, we continue to strongly support and to promote the talks in Geneva, under the mediation of the United Nations, as the only possible solution to end the war and the daily horror. In Brussels the international community found unity – from the United States to Russia, from the Gulf to European countries and the Arab world – working to help the Syrian parties reach a political agreement and put an end to the fighting. The representative of the Syrian civil society who were with us repeated one word, again and again: hudna, ceasefire. The attack in Idlib makes it even more evident that the ceasefire agreement signed in Astana has to turn into reality: its three guarantors – Russia, Turkey and Iran – have a clear responsibility to maintain. But the ceasefire will only last if the negotiations in Geneva among the Syrian parties, with the UN mediation, can continue and lead to a political solution to the crisis. The future of Syria is in Syrian hands: peace will only be possible when each and every Syrian citizen can feel home in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria. Here is my press conference with the UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura and the Q&A with journalists, after our Tuesday meeting with representative of the Syrian civil society. Today, I met with the representatives of the Syrian opposition, to continue supporting the Geneva talks (here is the press release).
Second, Syrians need our support right now, every day, inside and around Syria. Yesterday we confirmed and exceeded the commitments taken last year in London to finance humanitarian aid. And our pledges are turning into real projects: they change – at times they save – millions of lives, inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. The 70 delegations in Brussels have pledged more than 6 billion dollars for 2017 in humanitarian aid. The European Union is once again the first donor for Syrians inside and outside the country. Some believe that this is not so important – working on the humanitarian assistance as we still witness unspeakable devastation. But every cent we invest can save someone’s life, help a child go to school, provide water or medicines. It is a moral duty against the destruction of the war. And it is the best way to build peace and eradicate hatred.
Third: even as the war continues, we can and we must begin to prepare for peace. Too many times in the past the international community was unable to “win the peace”, after the end of a conflict. We have learnt the lesson. The reconstruction of Syria – the material reconstruction, but also the social and human reconstruction – will require a massive effort, with a collective contribution, the need for great coordination, and huge resources. Yesterday we decided to start preparing for the post-conflict. To support the future of Syria together. Reconstruction will only begin when a political transition is under way, but our common commitment can represent, as of today, a strong incentive for the negotiations. It can support the hope of Syrians to make their country rise again.
In my meetings with the Syrian civil society, over these two days, I saw an incredible mix of frustration and hope. Frustration at the continuing violence, but unshakable hope in a future of peace and reconciliation for Syria. I saw the ability to find common ground among them, beyond all expectations. Our responsibility, with the international community, is to let the Syrians make their country rise again, to accompany them, to support them on this difficult path. Our responsibility is to find the same courage, the same ability to build unity of the Syrian women and men we met in these days.
In Brussels, under the European Union’s leadership, the international unity has shown a new – and useful – level of responsibility and unity, both on humanitarian aid and on supporting the political process. We now have to be coherent and consequential, at least for once, and silence the weapons. Hudna.
Here is my opening speech at the Conference. Here my doorstep with journalists at the beginning of the day, here the press point with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, here the press conference at the end of the morning session. And here is the co-chairs final declaration.