"We started the first Council of the year with discussions on Syria and the Middle East Peace Process. I firmly believe diplomacy works and can deliver, and will continue working in this direction in 2017 and beyond."
Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
The Council discussed developments in Syria, for the first time since an agreement for cessation of hostilities was announced. In their discussion, ministers welcomed the agreement brokered and guaranteed by Russia and Turkey. They expressed the hope it could be fully implemented by all the parties to the conflict.
Ministers reaffirmed the EU full support to the UN-led process and to the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura. They noted that the meeting foreseen in Astana on 23 January, if fully inclusive, could contribute to a successful resumption of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva under UN auspices, foreseen on 8 February 2017. Ministers recalled the need to ensure full humanitarian access and protection throughout the country.
The Council also reiterated its support to the EU regional initiative on the future of Syria. This initiative aims to find common ground on the post conflict arrangements for Syria as well as reconciliation and reconstruction once a credible political transition is firmly underway, and in full coordination and support of the UN efforts. The High Representative briefed ministers on the latest round of talks conducted in this framework with key regional players: Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and soon Turkey and Qatar.
The Council agreed that the EU will host a conference on Syria and the region in Brussels in Spring 2017, as a follow-up to the London conference held in February 2016. The conference is expected to focus on three areas:
the political process towards a transition, in particular to take stock of the state of play of UN talks in Geneva;
humanitarian work and support for resilience and stabilisation, to take stock of the implementation of the London commitments and to identify possible gaps and how to address them, including through possible new pledges;
possible support to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation once a credible political transition is firmly underway.
The ministerial discussion will feed into the preparation of the forthcoming joint communication by the High Representative and the European Commission on the EU's strategy for Syria, planned to be presented to EU ministers by April 2017.
Middle East peace process
Over lunch, the Council discussed the Middle East peace process. Building on the outcome of the international conference held in Paris on 15 January, ministers discussed ways to achieve a comprehensive peace deal, preserve viability of the two-state solution and reverse on-going negative trends on the ground.
This was the first Council meeting to take place in the new Europa building, which this January became the main seat of the European Council and the Council of the EU.