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Transcript of press stakeout by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura - End of the Fifth Round of the Intra-Syrian Talks

31 March 2017

SdM: Good afternoon all of you. I will remember that I have to stop for the interpretation definitely. You have been already hearing quite a few stakeouts from participants to this round of talks, so I will try to summarise the spirit of it. So bear with me! I would read few points but then, of course, I will take questions and I can be more informal than just reading some points. So we have, today, now, not long time ago, completed a fifth round of the UN facilitated intra-Syrian talks here in Geneva. After the fourth round, you probably remember, I said we have finally a clear agenda and a method: the four baskets in order to advance 2254.

After this round, I think I can say - with caution but I can say - that all the invitees have gone into considerable detail on the substance of that agenda with us, using exactly the methodology that we had established. They will deny of course because it is normal, they will deny because this is a period in which you can hear statements - but you can also hear what I will tell you and what I tell you is that they were serious and they were engaged.

In fact, the invitees, all of them actually, have worked with us on a range of substantive issues across the agenda in parallel and during the last nine days. Frankly it was not much about format, it was not much about procedure, thank God, we were mostly talking about substance.

Remember, I said to myself and to all of you we should not expect a breakup, breakdown but also not any type of great success. We are in the moment of pushing ahead an agenda. So the work that has been done should not be neither underestimated or dismissed. They have worked hard with us. In every negotiation there are certain issues that need to be prepared and discussed and usefully so before the real peace negotiations start and it is clear we are not yet there. But all those parts we are taking care of them or started doing so. So from that point of view we see this as progress, preparation for progress.

This is precisely what happens in most negotiations and what in this case is required. If both the government and the opposition are to move on the substantive matters, it takes time and we need to work towards a framework containing exactly a political package and a political settlement that you know is linked to Geneva Communiqué and [resolution] 2254. But these steps on the margins are part of it and that's why I feel they worked hard and we worked well with them. They will deny it but never mind, we feel that and they know it too.

We had in fact - if I can give an example, quite useful, sometimes very useful and quite in-depth discussions, because they were on both sides experts, and they went deeply on each of most of the baskets that we have been addressing. For instance, governance issues, the issue about a political transition process, constitutional process issues although I would have liked to get little bit more on that. Election issues, counter terrorism and security, governance, and confidence-building measures.

They received, both sides, all sides, non-papers that is a UN speciality you know. We produce non-papers to stimulate a debate and discussion, and they have a life on their own so they received non-papers and oral inputs from us. They have presented actually both oral and written inputs themselves to us and they continue to seek, in various ways, until one hour ago, more inputs and responses and interaction with us on each of the four baskets.

I have been continuing receiving before, during, and just today this morning, very good advice from our Syrian Women Advisory Board. Their voice, believe it, has been very influential on me, because they have been whispering in my ear what in fact the people are asking not only the political standing which we all have and I have been using that and I know that all delegations have been aware of that. That is why there has been some interaction between our Syrian Women Advisory Board and many of them.

The other day I had the opportunity thanks to Michael Møller to participate in a luncheon in honour of the President of Chile, a strong woman, and I mentioned to her what the Syrian women are doing in terms of contribution to making the discussions more effective. I told her to be proud as we are, and she said: “Well I hope we can give an example in many countries because the senior women need to have a role that they don't have yet.”

Going back to papers or non-papers we have been producing some and we're not going to share them of course because they are living papers particularly one which has some principles that we have developed. This is a UN non-paper with some principles that are based on the commonalities that we have heard during five rounds of what can be points in common at the end of this process. Things such as national sovereignty, such as integrity, territorial integrity, and this is an important issue, respect of the different communities and so on.

That non-paper which I heard that some people started calling Naumkin paper is in fact a UN paper. I just asked Professor Naumkin to read it to the government as I asked my colleagues Robert Dann and Ambassador Ramzy to read to the opposition because I was tired of reading all the time. So please don't call it Naumkin paper or Ramzy paper, it is a UN paper.

This non-paper is a living paper and is still going on. We have been getting comments and we're going to take them into account of course but you should see it always in the context of how to actually implement the Geneva communiqué, 2118 and 2254. Remember in this process all what we're doing is working in parallel on several fronts and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed on and no preconditions. These are basically some of the points that we want to make sure of when we talk with the two sides.

At the end of the day today I had the indication from all sides that they are keen and ready to return to Geneva for the sixth round of the talks. I also discussed how to continue engaging all sides between the rounds in one form or another for so we continue going deeper on each of these baskets to prepare ourselves for the next round.

One of your questions could be: So when is the next round? As you know some of our partners have the tendency of announcing it before I do - and that's fair because it is always a possibility to be accurate on that - but I am going to consult the Secretary-General and the Security Council. I'm on my way at the end of next week to New York for that purpose and then based on their advice and guidance I would be then indicating when the sixth round is taking place. There are many things happening sadly on the ground because there is conflict and in the political global environment things are going to happen. For instance we are now moving to Brussels where they will be a conference dedicated to Syria and we will be there. Certainly my hope is that would be a location for a better clarity on the international engagement particularly on the issue about humanitarian assistance which is still in difficulty and the potential or the possibility of reconstruction at the right time and under the right conditions.

So after that we have New York, Security Council, after that we should have the Astana guarantors to meet in Tehran. Put it on your schedule because it is an important meeting as we hope that they would be able to revitalise the ceasefire which, at the moment, is in difficult moment. And we really mean it, a successful work in Astana on ceasefire, reinforces Geneva and vice versa. So we really hope that this will be taken up again with efficiency by the three guarantors. In fact I did during the talk write an official letter, as you probably know, to the foreign ministers of Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran urging them to actually do what they can to make sure that the their own involvement and their own successful involvement in re-establishing the strong and possibly even stronger ceasefire should be accelerated.

I was also, as you know, in Amman for the meeting of the Arab League, of the Arab States at the ministerial level and I did raise this issue with them, including the need for humanitarian access. And there, I heard from them their concerns for the fact that there is a lot of fighting that is taking place these days. And that leaves me also to say that we are particularly concerned about, generally those developments in the conflict which continues to put pressure on Syrian people, particularly civilians, who are often obliged to leave their homes. And sadly we have seen this happening too often during the last six years and this undermines this wonderful typical aspect of Syria - a mosaic where everybody is present and everybody has been there for thousands of years.

So conclusion, no one can deny and I cannot deny that there are serious challenges and that I'm not seeing immediately this developing into a peace agreement, no doubt about that.

And there are real challenges on the ground, we are seeing them in front of our eyes but let’s be frank, no one walked out in spite of them. No one threatened to walk out and everyone was serious and business like in pursuing and pushing their points of view, but they were there and did it professionally.

And as I told you many times before, it is normal, that happens despite the worrying situation and the unavoidable rhetoric strong statements. The truth is that both the government and opposition demonstrated a new form of maturity and commitment to continue the process notwithstanding mutual recriminations, and notwithstanding the fact that there are many serious grave developments taking place on the military side inside the country.

So, I believe that I can speak on behalf of all those who participated, we must, we must maintain this incremental momentum on the political process, even if it is only incremental.

Last time we said that the train is in the station ready. I think we can say, especially in Switzerland where trains are very precise, that the train is moving out of the station slowly, but moving out of the station.

Q: We have been hearing, Mr. de Mistura, from various sources including media sources that your mandate will be terminated. Some say that it will perhaps be extended for 15 days, others for six months, can you tell us anything in this regard?

SdM: I have been hearing the same rumours, as you know. Shall we make a deal? Please let us make a deal. I know tomorrow is the 1st of April, so it is very difficult to make a serious deal, but let's make a real deal. If and when, you will hear it directly, either from the Secretary-General or from myself, then you have to take it very seriously, thank you.

Q: Mr. de Mistura, you have been meeting with the oppositions separately, when do you think it will be possible to meet with a single not to a united, but a single delegation of the opposition, so that the Syrian people for whom you are meeting here will feel that there is some real progress?

SdM: I hope the sooner the better. I can tell you that this time too, there were informal meetings between them, and they were more than what you think and we see. We have been constantly reminding them that even in other countries, where there is an opposition, the different natures of the opposition; they can be a similar umbrella, if nothing else about the program. So I am still pushing and hopeful. I do know it would make the life for a negotiator and mediator much easier, so apart from the fact that they would give a very good impression to the Syrian people. I agree with you.

Q: I just want to follow up on the first question. When do you think we will be able to hear from the Secretary-General concerning the continuation of your job as the UN Envoy for the Syrian talks. And do you think that if you step down, that there would be actually avoiding the talks, which means that there would be suspension, and the talks will turn into action on the ground?

SdM: My answer is the same as before, and I don’t think it is fair to speculate on things, such as what will happen if, so my answer remains the same. Thank you.

Q: You said we have not reached a piece of real negotiation yet but there is also a pace to give probably for the different parties to that process. So how many rounds do you think, might be needed in order to reach that real piece of negotiation before the parties could feel maybe stuck in that process?

SdM: There are two words that we need to keep in mind. One is strategic patience and the other one is determination. We need to use, and we are I believe, using both in this context. Remember any peace negotiation requires a lot of that, especially in a conflict, which has, lasted six years. It is probably one of the most cruel and complex conflicts we have seen in recent time. So don't be surprised, you should be surprised if instead we didn't have this type of discussions or, if you want, preparation to the moment when in fact everyone would be around the table and negotiating a peace deal. That would be worrisome to you, not whether we have been five or six or seven before suddenly we tell you “now is the moment”.

Just to go personal for a moment, I am, I believe a good negotiator but no one is perfect, and one of the most difficult negotiations is not the ones according to the manual, but the ones with your family. That is why I know you are concerned, so am I but I am negotiating on two fronts at the same time. Thank you very much.