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Transcript of press remarks by Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geneva, 27 April 2016

27 April 2016

SdM: Again, my apologies for the delay. Sit, if you want to sit instead of standing. No, please. I and the colleagues here will allow that. Please, please. Let me say a few words, and since you have been waiting for so long, I will be also giving a chance for questions beyond the usual three and four, because you deserve my respect for you staying as late as now.

So today, as you know, we ended this round of intra-Syrian talks and I just briefed the Security Council a few minutes ago. The last round of talks were the ones previous to this one, received a boost, support, and that was by a very favourable wind. That was a wind of hope, linked to the beginning of the cessation of hostilities and a clear commitment to move ahead with an accelerated pattern of humanitarian access to besieged areas.

This round of talks have instead been overshadowed, let’s be frank, by a substantial and indeed worrisome deterioration of the cessation of hostilities. We cannot ignore that and we have not ignored it, and I have mentioned it to the Security Council. We cannot ignore the fact that, during these talks, we have been having incidents, one after the other – symbolized to me, at least just to mention one, a few hours ago, we had an air strike on a hospital in Aleppo, on eastern Aleppo. And probably, what I heard, the last doctor, paediatric doctor, was killed. A few days ago in Damascus, we had people, 15 of them killed in Damascus and 30 wounded. And you know what? Two of those 15 killed happened to be the very people we finally managed to evacuate from Foah. And then what we heard yesterday in Aleppo, nearby Aleppo, five of the white helmets, the very people we know are working and risking their lives to save other people, were clearly targeted by some form of rockets or air strikes. And then the attacks on markets.

Let’s put it in a few words: In the last 48 hours, we have had an average of one Syrian killed every 25 minutes. One Syrian wounded every 13 minutes. In spite of this, the talks went on, from the 13th until this morning. The suspension of the formal presence, as you know, in the Palais on the 19th by the HNC was partially compensated by substantial technical meetings, which took place in other locations. Indeed, we had the possibility to acquire quite a lot of ideas on the political transition from both the opposition, the HNC and the Government. And some inputs which we received from the consultations we had with the Cairo, Moscow platforms. And we benefitted even from very interesting, constructive ideas from the civil society and the women’s advisory board.

We have therefore prepared what we call a mediator’s summary, which you are going to have access to – what we believe has been some progress and my own understanding of what has been the differing visions of the political transition from the different points of view. So in spite of clearly – and we should admit it and we have to admit it and you should not be surprised – differences… after all, we are talking about a political discussion regarding a conflict which has been going on for more than five years, and as you can see is still ongoing, there are some commonalities on the political transition. I just mentioned a few, but you will see in the paper which you will have access to, there are many more.

The first one is: No one is doubting any more that there is an urgent need for a true and credible political transition. You remember when the word transition, at least in certain area, was taboo? Not any more. Everyone acknowledges that that is the agenda. Second, there is a clear understanding that a credible political transition should be overseen by a new – I repeat, new – credible and inclusive transitional governance which will be replacing the present governance arrangements. The other common point is that the transitional governance should include members of the present Government, opposition, independents and others.

And next point: That Syria does require a new constitution. And that the key responsibility for this transitional governance will be, in fact by the transitional governance, will be to oversee the drafting of this new constitution. Next point: That women should enjoy equal rights and representation in every institution. We need to test that, of course. It’s easy to say and often is said. We need to test it. When I look at delegations, I’m not seeing it yet. The next point is that any new governance shall be agreed upon in UN-facilitated intra-Syrian talks on the basis of mutual consent.

Having said that, no denial that there are still major differences officially on the major issues. But you can see that there is a movement in a certain area, which before you didn’t have an idea that that could have been the case. So there is an opportunity of going deeper. And that’s exactly what we want to do, obviously being followed and following the principle of the Geneva Communique and Resolution 2254.

So I did share this commonality with the Security Council. I am doing it also with you. My intention is to use more intensely what we have been applying this time, for the first time. Apart from proximity talks, what we have been doing is also now using technical meetings, in the hotel or in the building, in order to get deeper on these types of aspects. Otherwise, we would not have been able to detect these commonalities.

My aim is therefore to continue, obviously, these talks. We have at least one or two more rounds before July, which is our timetable which we been setting in order to be able to take stock of where we are and to announce a new target date during the course of May in order to build on these points.

But now, here I need to go back to where I started from, if you allow me to. But one thing is to look at it professionally, like a diplomat has to do, the process, and the other one is to look through the eyes of the Syrian people. So the Syrian voices that I am getting from everywhere, and you are probably getting the same, by emails, by phone calls, they are saying one thing: Hudna, hudna, hudna. This is the one thing they are telling us. They are telling me, they are saying: Thank you. Thank you for trying hard. Thank you very much for doing what you are trying to do in trying to see if there is any commonality. But what we need to do and to hear is that the cessation of hostilities is salvaged and that the cessation of hostilities is saved from a total collapse. It’s still there. It’s still there because in many areas, it’s still there. But it’s in great danger. It’s still alive, but barely. And the perception is that it could collapse at any time. But it’s enough to look at images. So the bottom line they are telling me, and we are hearing it, is hudna, hudna, hudna.

The Russian Federation and the US, as you remember, had a very strong initiative, which produced basically a miracle, because on 27 February, suddenly within hours, we had a dramatic collapse not of the cessation of hostilities but of the hostilities. And that produced a great feeling among everyone that in fact the political discussions and everything else had and should have a chance. And that produced the feeling of hope, unexpected hope, which then produced in turn credibility and sustainability of what is a political process. We need that to be urgently revitalized. And only the Russian Federation and the US, as they did when they launched suddenly everything related to the cessation of hostilities, need to come back again and relaunch it.

The next round of talks are going to take place, because we need and we want to keep the momentum. But let’s be frank: They will be meaningful only if and when the cessation of hostilities is brought back to the level we saw in February and in March. Hence, my appeal for a US-Russian urgent initiative at the highest levels, because the legacy of both President Obama and President Putin is linked to the success of what has been a unique initiative which started very well and needs to end very well: the hudna. Plus an ISSG new meeting at the ministerial level, in order to relaunch what has been for a moment put in danger. That is what we want to obtain before we actually announce the new round of talks, because that would certainly help the round of talks to become credible and effective. And we are ready for doing so because a lot has been done so far.

Thank you, and I am ready for questions.

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