First Published: 2014-11-26

Giandomenico Picco Interview
For Picco, bloody war that has been raging in Syria since 2011 is simply another phase of ‘chess game’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Middle East Online

‘We need leaders who can lead without enemy’

LONDON - This is the fate of Gianni, to be always in the shadow," a high-ranking United Nations diplomat once said during a private conversation. He was referring to Giandomenico Picco, the man who went on a risky mission to end the ordeal of few dozens of westerners held hostages by shadowy groups in Lebanon during the 1980’s. At that time, the "mysterious" hostage-negotiator – as only few people knew about his mission -- held the post of U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Special Assignments. His efforts to release the western hostages -- a mission successfully accomplished in the second part of 1991 -- came along with another difficult task, as head of the task force that negotiated the conclusion of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq conflict.Despite his studies in four different universities, he learned more “in the streets” to which he attributed whatever success he have had in “saving human lives and ending conflicts,” as he later disclosed. In Beirut, he got used “being picked up on a darkened street, blindfolded, and bundled into the back of a car” to meet the hostages’ captors. The operation which led to the release of those hostages took him to the United States, Lebanon, Israel and Iran, which was at war with Iraq. Some of the main players of that time remain in action three decades later, with of course “new comers” and other “ambitious regional countries” engaged today in a bloody “power struggle” for the control of an Arab region suffering from sharp divisions, mounting violence and all kinds of atrocities.Picco believes that what’s happening in the region today is a Sunni-Shiite war, and “Yes” he foresaw Iran’s growing ambitions, stating “I saw the Sunni star raising in the Easter part of the Levant (Pakistan) happening since the late 1970’s,”. And almost after that the Khomeini revolution open a new door to the Shiites” “The seeds (of a Sunni-Shiite war) were visible in the late seventies in the Eastern part of the Greater Levant, as far as Pakistan,” he said during an online interview with The Arab Weekly .“The architecture of the Levant from Pakistan to Lebanon has been changing for some time and more so, since the late 70s; that is to say since Iran and Saudi Arabia started their first ‘chess game’," he explained.For Picco, the bloody war that has been raging in Syria since 2011 was simply another phase of the “chess game” between the two Muslim countries.“It is not a civil war (in Syria) but the third chess game in the Iraqi -Syrian space in 30 years,” he said.When asked how such a war could come to an end and what would it take to reach a political solution at a time terrorist groups, such as the “Islamic State”, are further expanding and strengthening their control over large parts of Syria and Iraq, Picco said “the solution will not be found by reading the region with the glasses of the past: Syria and Iraq are part of the same ‘space’… a solution will come only when that entire space will be written in a new page of history.”With the wisdom and experience he had accumulated from his long-time diplomatic career, he said “Look forward not backward. We just need leaders with the courage to write that page and to do that, we need leaders who can lead without enemy. We cannot copy tomorrow from yesterday. We need the courage of writing anew.”He said “a solution may be achieved (but) only within the context of an area I called ‘the Syrian- Iraqi space’ … (and) only Iran and Saudi Arabia can lay the foundation to overcome the conflict in that space… They have to re write the architecture of the Levant. “He emphasized the need for “leaders who can have the courage to write a new page of history. Where are they? I hope they can be found in Saudi and in Iran, who are the leaders of Sunnism and Shiism. They have the major responsibility. Others may only be spoilers or helpers at a later stage.”Asked if he was to be approached today to negotiate the release of hostages kidnapped by the “Islamic State”, also known as IS and ISIS, he said “any case and anytime is different: most importantly history never repeats itself”.He recalled that “it took some two years to devise a formula” to end the hostage saga in Lebanon back in the 1980s, “to have it politically accepted by the parties involved (and no other) and then executed.”“In my experience, these operations succeed only if the negotiator has credibility which does not mean impartiality…. which is an abstract and indeed inexistent, and therefore useless concept invoked only by those who have never successfully negotiated." He further explained: “Impartiality, as a political concept, in our era had specific philosophical, political and regional roots, within the framework of the Cold War. Its limited use ended with the Cold War.”He went on, adding” "The political map of the international system changed with the end of the Cold War: from that moment on, multilateralism read UN system as well, has never resolved any conflict over the last 20 years That has been achieved only by ‘minilateralism’ or bilateralism’.” How he then sees the future of the Arab region?Picco re-emphasized “The future resides in the ability of Saudi Arabia and Iran to build together a new architecture for the Muslim world…The Chess Game for the future of the Greater Levant needs first an understanding between Riyadh and Tehran.”Only those two countries “can lay the ground for a first level of understanding” of this new architecture, which “will carry no more Western names of architects but Sunnis and Shiites names,” he concluded.


Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Civilians stay on frontlines despite dangers in Raqa

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Erdogan meddles in German politics

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land

Turkey arrests 9 more journalists for alleged ‘Gulen links’

Iran’s Karroubi on hunger strike over 6-year house arrest

Saudi Arabia to restart work on Grand Mosque expansion

Algeria reshuffles cabinet, nominates three new ministers

Syria rebels lose heavyweight faction

ICC orders Mali ex-jihadist pay 2.7 m euros for Timbuktu destruction

Libya seeks to ‘organise’ NGOs carrying migrant rescue Ops

More than one million South Sudan refugees in Uganda

Beirut, Damascus pledge to boost economic ties