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Joint Press Stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and UN Senior Advisor Jan Egeland

7 December 2017

SdeM: Thank you very much. First of all let me pass the floor very quickly to Jan because we just had today a humanitarian taskforce and it did address a very serious issue that while we are trying to serious meaningful talks in Geneva, the humanitarian situation is concerning, very concerning in some areas, and in particular one, and there has been, from what we have been getting, from the last time when Jan made a very powerful, in my opinion, a very strong appeal about progress, particularly on the medical side, on one particular besieged area called eastern Ghouta, there has been zero, zero outcome so far, and that is very concerning.

So I will give the floor to you [ Jan], after that I am going to elaborate a little bit on also what is up on the political discussions, so that is the reason why, I think I ought it to you today some update.

JE: Thank you very much Staffan, indeed I gave my shortest and most somber report, I think, in the nearly two years we had the humanitarian taskforce to the member states, because there was nothing much to say except that we are ready, we can deliver, we can evacuate we are waiting for political, military, security obstacles to be lifted, and they are not lifted. We need help from the parties on the ground, by the government on the ground, by all of those nations who have influence and they are not helping us as they should.

We are, of course, making progress elsewhere, outside of the besieged areas, there is now movement to Deir ez-Zor, there was an initial assessment security mission there. In Raqqa, which is peppered by explosives, by everybody, there are a lot of plans to try to help people home but it is too dangerous for the time being, there are complex explosives all over, by IS, by those attacking and those bombing.

The epicenter of suffering is, however, eastern Ghouta. 400,000 people are there, and let me just clearly reiterate what is happening. Six months ago a very detailed evacuation plan was delivered to the government for needy cases of evacuation, on medical grounds from eastern Ghouta. Since then, names have been added regularly and it is now, we now have a revised list of 494 names. There are among them 282 cases that is need for specialized surgery, specialized treatment, specialized investigations that cannot get inside. There are 73 sever cancer cases, 25 kidney failure cases and 97 heart disease cases very concerning, five acutely malnourished children that need to be evacuated, six acute mental health cases etc.

The reason it is now 494. It is also that in the revised list ten patients had died, and just got the names of two more cases, so in total, 12 had died on this waiting list and they wait for a half an hour drive to hospitals in Damascus and elsewhere, that stand ready to help and save lives.

Three children have been lifted out as particularly needy and that’s by the desperate remaining doctors inside, who say that can we please have these children now lifted out tomorrow. It is Muhannad, is 45 days old and has kidney failure. It is Enji, she is 7 years old and she has hemophilia, severe hemophilia. Nour, is two years old and she has a rare cancer called retinoblastoma, very rare and very dangerous. They cause no harm in their lives, can the men who sit on that list please sign it off so that our ambulances can take them out of this hellish place, which is eastern Ghouta, and we can save their lives?

Altogether, 231 of the cases are female, 137 are children, 61 are over 65 years old. So these are civilians, in the midst of this horrific war.

We had hoped to do six convoys last week, everything ready, the trucks, the supplies, the courageous relief workers. All six stalled, three of them to eastern Ghouta that has severe and acute malnutrition reported. And why we are not rolling? Because of lack of facilitation letters from the government. There is also insecurity but I note that some commercial trucks are rolling in and out of Ghouta.

Now, in Foua and Kefraya, besieged by armed opposition groups, and Yarmouk besieged by many groups, including forces loyal to the government, the reason why we are not rolling is that the parties are quarrelling, as they always do, on simultaneous exchange of convoys. There are also rumors that the reason we are not rolling into Ghouta and we are not having [ medical] evacuation from Ghouta is that detainees have to be released simultaneously. I would like to say that civilians, children, no one can be a bargaining chip in some kind of tug of war, where many things are negotiated at the same time. These have a right to be evacuated and we have an obligation to evacuate them.

Just a final issue to say that there are now 30,000-35,000 people in a desperate situation in a desert stretch in Syria, at the border with Jordan, it is called Rukban. We have a detailed plan to go there with a convoy, it is still stuck. We need the green light from the government and still we have to work with the Russians and the Americans who are both helping us with the details on a complex security arrangement to go in cross-line and into this area.

So, I’d say, I had failed, I feel we have not been able to fix it, it is very very heart breaking to get photos every day from children who are increasingly malnourished and who are increasingly dying and not being able to help them. Thank you

SdeM: Jan Egeland did not fail because we are not giving up and he is not giving up - but what we are signaling is that, while we are trying to have some political process and progress, and while we are seeing in the world announcements about the fact that the war is almost over, and that the Daesh has been defeated or can be defeated or is in the process of being defeated, there is no reason, no reason whatsoever to have this medieval type of approach regarding civilians, patients, children, women, particularly if the conflict is getting close to the end, one reason more to consider this unacceptable.

And therefore, I decided to be with Jan when he did say what he said because we can have a lot of political process but if this is happening while people are dying we feel that this is not good enough, and we need to draw attention to this.

No let me now talk about the political process. As you know the government delegation has left for a recess, we had a recess during the weekend, the work has continued with the opposition delegation, unified opposition delegation, and we have been able to go quite a lot in discussions with them, both on the 12 points, on the four baskets, and with particular emphasis from our point of view, in particular on basket two and basket three, which I remind you, is the constitutional issues and the elections under UN supervision. All that was done with us and without any precondition. We discussed openly.

Now the government, the government has informed us that they would fly back to Geneva on Sunday the 10th of December. We have taken note of that and we are ready to continue, as we said from the beginning, to discuss with both sides until the 15th, when they depart, therefore until the 14th evening. Then we expect therefore those who will be present in Geneva, and we say it again, to seriously engage, in particular on the 12 points, on all baskets, but in particular on those two baskets which we announced in the Security Council - and every member of the Security Council says that it is important - i.e., constitutional issues and elections under UN supervision.

The other day, President Putin, I heard him saying, very much clearly that he insisted on the need of presidential, I repeat, and parliamentarian elections, which under the 2254 means, under UN supervision.

Now, let me be frank and clear, there are many initiatives that are being planned and can be planned in the future, but we shall assess the behavior on both sides, government and opposition in Geneva, and based on that we will then decide how this, as we said at the Security Council, can be a building up or not, or a sabotage of Geneva. If that is the case, we will draw our own conclusions. We want any type of new initiative which is going to take place or could take place, to be, as is being claimed, an opportunity of supporting Geneva, and building on Geneva and coming back to Geneva. That is the position of the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

So, bottom line, we are expecting the government to come back on Sunday, we are having the opposition still here, we will engage both of them, expecting no preconditions, and on the 12 points and on constitution and elections. And based on that we will be then assessing whether there is any serious intention, not only in Geneva - but what goes wrong in Geneva is very bad sign for any other initiative elsewhere.

So that is where we are at the moment. Thank you

Q. Yesterday the President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that terrorists are defeated on both sides of the Euphrates river, in Deir ez-Zor province. Many times you said that it is very important to fight against terrorism, it is one of the questions here, what is your opinion, how could it influence on the peaceful process of the Geneva negotiations?

SdeM: Thank you for asking this question because I think it is a very important one. It is true President Vladimir Putin yesterday said what you exactly said and we took very much note of that and in particular about the fact that he also referred to the need for constitutional changes, a new process, parliamentary and presidential elections - which we interpret according to 2254 under UN supervision.

The concept about whether the international community has succeeded in defeating Daesh is based on the principle that means that Daesh will have no opportunity of space for returning. We have all learnt, I want to believe, that lesson from Mosul - I was there, I was in Iraq during the time when at that time al-Qaeda was “defeated”, that was the moment when Mr. Zarkawi was in charge of it, then it became another person called al-Baghdady. And we saw what happened, there was no sufficient engagement in a credible political inclusive process, communities felt excluded and there was a new entity, much worse, difficult to have it but much worse, called Daesh.

So the bottom line is - to win territorially against Daesh, is one thing, defeat Daesh, and therefore stop any chance for it to actually start again under another name and under another person, requires a credible inclusive political process, constitution, parliamentary presidential elections under UN supervision, as per 2254, and addressing 2254, then, I agree, we would have all together defeated for good Daesh.

Q. You said you are going to analyze next week if it is a building up process or if it is a sabotage, if it is a sabotage according to you and your colleagues and advisors, what is going to happen? What are you thinking? Are you going to halt talks? Cancel talks, give up absolutely?

SdeM: Thank you. I understand you are doing your job and I hope you will appreciate I am doing mine. I am not in a position of telling you now what would be our reaction if we come to the conclusion that either side here in Geneva is de facto, by simply being here but not participating to talks, de facto sabotaging the Geneva political process, the only one which has been actually mandated by the UN Security Council. So I will tell you more once we assess the situation. What I am telling you today is that if, God forbid - because it will be very bad news - we draw the conclusion that one of the two sides is actually, de facto - not simply by being here and coming to a meeting, but actually engaging - is de facto sabotaging the process and the progress of Geneva, that would have a very bad impact on any other political attempt to have processes elsewhere. And that’s why it is very important to actually see how Geneva is moving.

Q. Do you think Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will create much more instability in the region, including Syria? And secondly, what the regime’s justification to delay participation?

SdeM: The answer will be pretty short; I am sorry for being short on that. For the first part I have no comments. I have enough of energy to dedicate to a major issue which is called the Syrian conflict, I am not going to touch on any other regional issue at the moment. Forgive me but that is my position. The second one, what is the justification? I have not heard any, at least directly - what I am expecting and hoping is that the government when they come back, will be addressing, without any precondition, the subjects we had all agreed we should be addressing.

Q. I will ask that I know you may not answer but I will try anyway. You’ve previously said publicly that it is time for the opposition to be realistic and pragmatic, those were your words. To what extend do you believe it would be helpful if there was a public declaration from the opposition that it is open for a transition period with the president? Some sort of an indication that this is a scenario they would consider to help more this ball down the road a little bit.

SdeM: Well, it is not for me to advise the two sides, I am a mediator on that, so on how they could send a signal to each other about how to have a meaning direct negotiation, so I am not making any comment on that - and you were right, you had to ask it but I cannot make any comment on that.

Q. On which documents will the discussions be based? Is it 2254, what about the Geneva Communique? And what is the situation in the discussion in terms of the Presidency, whether President Assad remains in power or not.

SdeM: My answer to that is clear that the two sides do not have an agreement, otherwise we would not require a negotiation or a mediation. The two sides have strong divergent points. What we have said, and that was the way why we interpreted also very strongly, and I think the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia did the same, who made a major effort in Riyadh - we interpreted, and so did I with my own press release about the outcome in Riyadh - that everyone can, and has the right to have an opinion, everyone, both the government and the opposition, obviously. And everyone can also have a position. But, none of them, as far as we are concerned, should have a precondition. And that’s where the space for negotiations takes place. In every opposition or government tensions, even in most democratic and peaceful countries, there are very strong opinions about each other and we have seen that all over the history in our countries, that’s one thing. The other thing is whether this is a precondition, we have insisted and we are taking that as a firm positon, neither side should use any type of position as a precondition. That was the interpretation of the Riyadh statement as far as we are concerned, and most of the international community - not all.

Thank you.

Geneva, 7 December 2017