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Near verbatim transcript of the press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura following the Security Council meeting

New York, 29 June 2016
29 June 2016

Good afternoon.

You already heard [from] the Chairman of the Council, the Ambassador of France. Let me first summarize what we did and then of course I will take questions.

The first point was that we all remembered with sadness and horror the terrorist attack in Istanbul. It was a reminder to everyone in the Council that fighting terrorism is a priority and should be considered constantly a priority. We should not forget that aspect. However, winning – not only fighting - terrorism in Syria and Iraq too, but particularly in Syria, would require a political transition because that’s the way through which we take away the water from those who are swimming in the terrorist environment.

The second point that came up marginally but it’s an important point was the fact that today 18 towns have been reached amongst the besieged cities. And for those of you who have been following up all the different attempts to reach all the besieged areas [will know] it’s quite a landmark. It’s not enough. We’re not reaching them as much as we want. We are not reaching everywhere but if you think about what was last year [compared to] today, 18 of the 18 towns besieged were reached.
And now we come to the political issue – the political transition. Some of you – and I recognize the faces of many of you – have been following up the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. You know very well that one of the strengths – there aren’t many strengths but the UN has some strengths and they need to be used very effectively – is the convening power. In other words, we learned that when you convene a conference or talks or intra-Syrian talks, you want to make sure that it has good chances of success. Having just a conference for the sake of a conference, we can do that any time but that’s not the purpose.

The second point, we already went through two intra-Syrian talks, which did produce some astonishing outcomes -- because when you think that we could get some commonality among people and groups that don’t agree, it’s quite an outcome. But this time, the third one needs to be particularly well prepared. Do I need to remind you what is going to happen between now and September? The next General Assembly will be the last where the Secretary-General will be there. The last General Assembly where President Obama will be there. We will have a G20 in September when perhaps it will be the last occasion for President Obama and President Putin to meet. And [from journalist: is it the last for you? Mr. de Mistura responded: “Well you should first of all ask my wife because she has a strong say on my personal plans. Secondly, it the Secretary-General and the Security Council and my own conscience. So you have many to ask, not only me.]

Now let me finish with one point because it’s a point that you wanted to have. So, bottom line is I have not – as the French Ambassador told you already – indicated a fixed date in July because I’m holding this to make sure that the consultations amongst the co-chairs and others [and] to make sure that there is sufficient critical mass so that when we call the talks there is a possibility of moving forward on political transition by August is still an option. Bottom line, I’m still aiming – we are aiming at -- within July but not at any cost and not without guarantees. And aiming at August as the period where we should be seeing something concrete. So that in September we take stock.

Questions and Answers

Question: You have just said that August is still your target. One month and one day to re-start political talks, to deal with that mother of all issues – political transition. Surely that August deadline is completely unrealistic now.
SE: We should talk in August because when we look at the different aspects of what we are talking about – political transition – first off all, everyone agrees that political transition is a priority and no one is denying it. And secondly, allow me to say that while we are talking about the talks there is a lot of discrete diplomacy taking place. I’ve been in St. Petersburg. I’m going to Washington tomorrow. We consulted the Security Council so let’s talk about it in August.

Question: You said that you could have a conference at any time but you would like to have something substantive to move you forward. What needs to happen to move this forward to get the process going?
SE: This is very close to what James was saying when he said it looks impossible. But do you remember when the cessation of hostilities took place? Did that not look totally impossible? Even I was wondering ‘will it really take place within a week’? But it was enough that the two co-chairs came up with critical mass and we were able – through the ISSG – and together we were able to cover it with a proper mantle. It did take place. It did not last perfectly for over two months but what a miracle. So what we need is for the stakeholders to come with a feeling of urgency and work on some ideas on how to bridge their differences by what everyone means by political transition.

Question: [inaudible] For instance, we know that the Syrian government is there. They have the Russians and the Iranians leverage their power on them. Who can leverage the opposition to bring it together?
SE: Well, the opposition has many friends and supporters and if they feel as the case of the cessation of hostilities, it is in their interest and the two co-chairs have a common line I think we can see that happening. But of course there is a lot of work to be done but the beginning is to see whether we have the critical mass then I say we are ready for the talks. Or I will tell you why we are finding it difficult to have them.

Question: I want to ask you about the participation of the Kurds. Is there any effort while you are trying to re-start the talks before August 1st? Is there any effort by your office or any member state to finally include the Kurds in the talks?
SE: This issue is coming up regularly and rightly so, by the way, because the Kurds, as you know, represent at least five percent of the Syrian population and the Syrian Kurds are Syrian. They have a voice and they need to be heard. Now the issue is that – first of all - everyone seems to be talking to them – the Americans, the Russians. Many of them are fighting against Daesh/ISIS in connection with member countries. But there are some difficulties in ensuring that they could be part of the talks. One of them is that they have been announcing that they are in favor of federalism – just to mention one. That is an issue that is provoking on all sides in Syria a reaction. We will be finding a way to have their voice heard. To give you another example, there are informal discussions with them all the time. But inviting them to the intra-Syrian talks will require some homework.

Question: Your point about the last term for President Obama, last term for the Secretary-General, the last moment they can meet with Putin. Is the idea that if it’s not August, it’s off? If it doesn’t happen by August that you have to start anew? And is that a point on putting pressure on any of the parties?
SE: The short answer is yes. I am putting pressure on all parties because I think that the main parties that can make this happen need to feel like they have a historic responsibility. The UN can help but it needs to be done like it was done with the cessation of hostilities by the main stakeholders. Now, why September/August? There is an issue of legacy. There is an issue of history. And there’s the issue about the UN wanting to know that they have done all that they can with Ban Ki-moon who was the Secretary-General during this period to make sure that every chance for solving this horrible conflict has been attempted.