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Transcript of stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

25 September 2016

New York, 25 September 2016

SdeM: Good afternoon. I will read some few points because I think the meeting as such was intense and timely, and therefore I think we need to be very precise in what we say.
First of all, you must have heard, because this was a public meeting, what has been the content of the interventions both of the members of the Security Council and my own, so I will not repeat it, but let me just summarize some few points, and of course I will take some questions.  The time is appropriate for that.
The situation in Aleppo, as the Secretary-General had said is: chilling, appalling, tragic. The cessation of hostilities which began on the 12th of September, and was announced on the 9th of September by the Russian Federation and the US lasted few days, and now risks to become totally devoid of credibility. Spoilers have undermined it from day one and we have had the terrible attacks on the convoy. There was also this difficult moment when the incident at Deir ez-Zor took place. 
But there is and there was still hope. The ISSG has been working and is still working and you must have heard that both Russia and the US have not given up on their own discussions and I confirm that.
Going back to the events on the 18th of September, air strikes did resume on Aleppo and the next day at the ISSG when they were meeting in New York, when we were trying to salvage the ceasefire, the government of Syria, unilaterally, declared that the cessation of hostilities was over. That is a declaration that only the two co-chairs can make and have so far, to my understanding, not made. That doesn’t mean that the cessation of hostilities is not in a terrible status, but is not yet dead. Since then we have seen the most sustained, intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict on Aleppo in particular. The level of air strikes is unprecedented in quantity and also in the scale and type. 
The overwhelming danger to civilians in Aleppo in particular is from the sustained aerial bombardment, with new type of heavy weapons in densely populated areas. This is inhumane, merciless, sinful, indeed barbaric. It may be tantamount to criminal. It must stop. 
There is also, indeed, and we have to be frank, reports of AOGs [Armed Opposition Groups] firing the so-called hellfire rockets, you know what they are -- they are canisters of gas full of ammunition -- at civilian targets. This must stop as well.  
Terrorist groups like al-Nusra are present in Aleppo. This has been confirmed by everyone, I think even by the Americans. But this is in no way, I repeat, in no way, a possibility for justifying devastating aerial bombing of heavily urbanized areas. 
Since it is the air strikes that are causing, today, most of the suffering among the civilian population, let’s remember the figures:  275,000 people are still living in eastern Aleppo. They cannot be all terrorists, but they are under constant form of now de facto siege for more than twenty days and hundreds of them have been killed since the air strikes have returned.
Reports continue to arrive that medical centers have been targeted. Streets are so filled in rubble that ambulances cannot pass through them. Humanitarian supplies are running out, we have clear figures on that because WFP has been providing them to us. Food rations are low. Bread, fuel, even running water has been cut by one side and then by the other and now resumed, but just to see how cruel this conflict on Aleppo is becoming.
Everything hangs in the balance now, right now. The initiative is with those who are bombing and fighting. The onus rests first and foremost with the parties who did broker that ceasefire, Russian Federation and the United States. We watched them, we saw them, we supported them, because when they did make that agreement, we know that they worked hard, for hours, days, even late in the night. They need to make clear in word and in deed that they really mean and meant what they declared and that they will act to ensure that the cessation of hostilities can come in effect, with the support, of course, of the regional countries. 
So, what we did appeal to the Council was: one, to press for cessation of the violence and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly starting with Aleppo and starting with the aerial bombing in Aleppo and elsewhere. Second, to demand, again, the weekly 48-hour pauses in the fighting to ensure that UN - who is ready - these 48 hrs. can be used by the 20 trucks which have been waiting every morning at 5 o’clock on the Turkish border, so they can reach eastern Aleppo. To press for medical evacuations of urgent cases, this has not happened in eastern Aleppo, and to develop some type of common understanding of action to enforce and monitor cessation of hostilities because that is a point that, god willing we have it, both monitoring and enforcing need to be well clarified. And of course support the UN to resume the talks and to ensure that no parties refuse to participate in the talks. 
Dear friends, I have been working as you know for 17 wars now and 46 years with the UN and I never seen anything to match the horrors that we have seen these days. We need to act and I think that the Security Council had that message very strongly among them.  I will stop there.
Q. Mr. de Mistura, you mentioned inside the Security Council that the peaceful process and negotiations can’t be held hostage to the security situation on the ground. Now we all know that the opposition had put conditions to have a peaceful period, entry of humanitarian aid and then the negotiations. Before you announce what you announced in the Security Council and before issuing your invitations to the different parties after consulting with the SG and after ISSG, have you obtained the acceptance of these opposition groups that things have changed and that they have to come now even that the security situation is not right?
SdeM: Ok, let me qualify a little bit the point. First I think even John Kerry referred to it the other day, while he remembers many conflicts in the past, that there has been quite a few cases that during a conflict or towards the end of the conflict which normally tends to become more brutal, that’s history, that’s experience, there has been initiating also talks. The Vietnam case is a classical example of it. So, there is no reason to want to simply put one as a hostage of the other necessarily because otherwise those who do not want the talks will then increase the fighting, for instance the terrorists, who have probably no intention of seeing a negotiated settlement.  At the same time it is clear, and it was said even after the meeting we had in Geneva, that if there is a reduction of violence, as had been promised by the 9th of September meeting and there is humanitarian aid, the talks, the meetings will be by far facilitated by that. So the bottom line is, we are not going to be hostage but we are aware of the fact that there is a need to feel also that the people in Syria are feeling that there is something moving in the right direction for giving confidence to the talks, that’s all.
Q. The Ambassador of the United Kingdom said that the US-Russian track is nearing its end. Do you think that you made a mistake putting all of your diplomatic eggs in Kerry-Lavrov’s basket? Thank you.
SdeM: I will be always ready to admit the mistakes. You know in the UN our motto is we try, we fail, we try again we fail better, and we try again because the motto is we are there to support whatever possible option to save the Syrian people. Having said that, I think that you should not give up on the Russian –American possibility of coming up with an understanding. Why? First because Russia has a strong capacity, even military capacity of influencing the situation on the ground and the Syrian government. Second because the current Administration, particularly in the person of John Kerry, which one day we will all be able to recognize the enormous determination of wanting to believe that there can be a deal done for the sake of stopping this conflict. We should not give up on their possibility of coming up on this. The alternative of course is going back to conflict or to expand the discussion, which any way needs to be done with the regional players, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, just to mention three. But they do have a possibility of involving themselves very heavily, a part in the conflict but certainly in the ISSG and the ISSG the other day, was rightly mentioned by one member of it, and I am not revealing a secret, when it said that we have been focusing too much about three days, seven days, because the whole idea of the ISSG at a certain point is also focusing on the political parameters that would allow me as a mediator to actually have this. I think we can still to that.
Q. What did you think of the walk out of Samantha Power, Rycroft and Delattre before you spoke, and also what is the status of UN inquiry of the bombing of aid the convoy, was it an air strike and if so, who did it?
SdeM: Well, I have no comments to either of the questions, sorry.
Q.  Since there was a lot of acrimony and there was a lot of finger pointing, and the ISSG meeting didn’t go so well, what’s the next step? What are you going to do?
SdeM: First of all, let us turn a little bit the thing. What am I going to do or what is Russia and the US going to do? That’s the first question that you and us should be asking them and help them to actually realize the historical responsibility that they took together in public in front of all of you and therefore in front of the world on the 9th of September.  We are having several different options of course because as I said the UN forget me or anyone, we are people, but the UN will never give up on Syrians. The Secretary-General even told me the other day, Staffan, remember, until the last stroke of midnight, on the 31st of December, I Secretary-General of the UN will continue constantly pushing for something on Syria. 
Q: (inaudible)
SdeM: I am not blaming. There is a failure of the international community, that’s what the Syrians are saying and they are right. 

Thank you very much.