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Transcript of Press Briefing by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura

14 March 2016

Thank you. I will take two or three questions. The first thing I will like to say is, I would like, on behalf of the Secretary-General and of my own team, to express my own condolences and those of the United Nations for this horrific attack which took place in Ankara yesterday. It is the first opportunity for me to say so. I did call very early this morning, the Turkish Ambassador here in Geneva, to express our own sadness about it.

Let me qualify a little bit now the talks, and then give you some indications about information I can give you at this stage, we are the beginning. So the first one is: this talks are important, they are strongly wanted, and requested by the ISSG, which is the 18 countries who are part of it, plus two international organizations, they are strongly urged by the US and Russian Federation, the P.5s and the Security Council. So let’s be clear, these talks are wanted by the international stakeholders.

And today, this afternoon, in our time, our evening I will be briefing the Security Council. They are urged by the Syrian people, they take place at a time of a fragile, I recognize it, but by and large, holding cessation of hostilities, ask the Syrian people. And while more besieged areas are being reached than ever before, not enough, not enough, but taking place and people see that.
The public statements are going to be showing, and they already done, that there is much distance between the sides, and distance indeed exists. And we are going, therefore, to proceed through the technique of proximity talks, as we did previously and we will this time enhance it.
The agenda is set. It is based on 2254, and within the framework as you know, and the guidance of the Geneva Communiqué no question on that.

Spoilers will try to upset the talks, by incidents, by whatever, you will be seeing and we will be seeing, the secret will be to be cold, determined and have the international community and those I have just mentioned, keeping that type of capacity. Public rhetoric will try to cast iron preconditions, but this is a moment of truth. And hopefully proactive chance.

The UN let me admitting and accepting what we are, we are going to facilitate, we are facilitating, mediating, pushing, stimulating but the real peace makers here are the peacemaking powers who wanted this talks, the ISSG, and the Security Council members, and hopefully the Syrian sides.
If during these talks and in the next rounds we will see no notice of any willingness to negotiate, which we hope is not going to be the case, obviously we will do what we want to do and we have done, we will bring the issue back to those who have influence, and that is the Russian Federation, the USA, co-chairs of the ISSG and to the Security Council.

The taskforces one on the humanitarian side and one on the cessation of hostilities are going to be meeting in simultaneous during this week, the next week and on. We are counting and using to use these taskforces in order to contribute in order to make sure that the talks are focusing on the real issue, and what is the real issue? The mother of all issues, political transition. Therefore the taskforces can be extremely helpful in actually addressing this issue which in a way are potentially deflecting on the focus on the political process.

The alternative, some people call it plan B as you know. Well as far as I know the only plan B available is the return to war, and to even worse war than we had so far.
Rules of the game, now we get into technical aspects. We will be doing a briefing, we are just doing a pre-briefing today, and we will be having a briefing every Monday, or at the beginning of each week. In other words the next briefing could be next Monday. It is not casted in iron, you will see, we will have to adjust ourselves, but that as a rule so that you know, so that every beginning of the week we will have an opportunity to exchanging, a little more deeply, our own assessment of where we are.

And certainly there will be one briefing or meeting together at the end of the first round which at the time being is expected to be around the 24th of this month.
Stakeouts of course will take place, every time that there is need, I will probably do some of those directly, especially in the beginning, otherwise it will be our two spokespersons Ahmad Fawzi or you know Jessy.

In order to be sure that you are protected from past errors that I made in forgetting that the Geneva team of the press should not be by-passed and I got the message and please forgive me and I move quickly and sometimes based on my own connections and people who call me, there will be no exclusive interviews given during this period of the talks but of course after the talks. And I may decide of course depending on the situation to clarify issues, if there is a need, example if there is an issue which is coming up and there is been stated in one way or the other, my own approach will then is to clarify those and perhaps call for a press conference, in that case.

Meetings will be announced as soon as possible, but normally not before one hour before they take place because there will be a lot changes with scheduling.
The first meeting is today with the government and will be taking place in fact in about 45 minutes, more or less one hour. Yesterday, my first meeting was with whom? Let’s see, can we make a little testing? Can I once interview you? Can anyone say with whom I had the first meeting yesterday?
(Opposition, Kurds)

No and I am a little bit disappointed, but anyway, the first meeting yesterday, and not by accident, yesterday afternoon, actually took place with Syrian Women. And it is not by accident. I met the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, had a long meeting with them, almost an hour and a half, they are those who I hope will be able to contribute, more than ever before, to at least our understanding, on how to address the Syrian crisis.

Then I met as a courtesy call in a short meeting, because the real meeting starts today, the government. And then later on I met the HNC. Again relatively short meeting in their own hotels as a matter of courtesy. The next meetings are going to be more structured.
The rule of the game will be “inclusiveness” so we will find, thanks to the proximity talks and to the rule that have been given by the Security Council, to include as many as possible, either this round or next round, in fact, the list of those that we are going to consult or meet or will be part of eventually I hope not only proximity negotiations but in fact direct negotiations is going to be constantly updated because the message is to me that should be all-inclusive and all Syrians should be given a chance.

Can I now make one additional point if I may? One is an anecdote which brings me back to what was my first meeting, and the second one is while we are talking I hope that you will bear in mind that somewhere else, I think at the very time we are raising the issue, there is a presentation of the report of UNICEF, on the Situation of Syrian Children. It does have an impact on us, it is a reminder to us that these talks cannot only be about procedural or posturing but it needs to address the issue of Syrian future and that at any cost we have to try to maintain and increase the impact of the cessation of hostilities which is making a difference but not enough, and of the humanitarian access, which is making a difference but not to all areas besieged and beyond. So let me please remind you but you will see it from the report, they had an impact. 3.7 million children under five, what does it mean? Have they seen anything beyond the war? Have they seen anything that looks like a normal life? 3.7 million children had only seen war in Syria. 7 million of them live in families which are on the level of pre-poverty, 900 of them, almost 1000 of them were killed last year, and 150 of them while they were sitting in their own schools. Just to tell you what the message is telling us. When you link it to the 15th which is the Anniversary , and I know that you are aware of it that means five years anniversary. Sad anniversary.

Last point, a little bit of anecdote if you would allow me, which actually was reported to me yesterday by one of the Syrian women, of the Syrian Advisory Board. She had been visiting Syrian women in the Beqaa valley in Lebanon and had seen some other women both in Turkey and in Jordan. And one of them said to her, and I think it was quite an impact, said I am living in a tent here, I am living in a tent with my family, but if the ceasefire holds, if the humanitarian aid continues moving and if we have a feeling that this is going to produce peace in Syria, you know what? I will take this tent and you know I will bring it back to where my house was, which is just ruins and put my tent there, because I want my own dignity and I love my country. I think that message is what, at least to me, I believe with my colleagues pushing, I had not simply because this is a job, like you too, is quite a stimulation for making sure that these talks which start distant should become effective. Thank you very much.

Q. I want to know what your comments would be regarding the Syrian Foreign Minister’s comments dismissing Presidential elections (inaudible)

SdeM. It is my habit not to comment on statements made by any foreign minister or any stakeholders and I have practiced that so far. I made a statement and I feel that this statement is consistent with the 2254 but I have no more comments to make.

Q. As you mentioned minutes ago about the Security Council resolution and the Geneva communiqué, when you will be starting of today discussing the question of governance or government there are big differences between the Geneva communiqué and the Security Council resolution. How will you deal with these differences especially that we see that the demands of the two parties are completely different when they talk about this item. Thank you.

SdeM: Well, first of all just to refer back to question (from Turkish media), just convey our condolences because it was really terribly and happening just a day before the talks.
My line on the future of Syria is the one which the Secretary-General has been maintaining. It is up frankly to the Syrian people to vote elect, decide, but we need to help them, and one way to help them is through the international community is having these three points of 2254. At the end of the day it will be up to them to decide how to run their own country.
Regarding the points that you just mentioned, please I think we will a private training on how negotiations take place afterwards, because you are asking me to reveal the techniques and the approaches that we may be using in order to bridge a gap that is obviously there. That's why there are negotiations.

Q. Is there a final date that you have informed all the parties about for reaching an agreement so that these talks don't go out forever?

SdeM. More or less there is a date. We are aiming at three rounds. The first round starting good willing today the second one I would say a week, ten days after the new recess which is the 24th and then that round should be lasting at least 2 weeks, and then the third round would be after another recess. And by then we believe that we should have at least clear road map, I am not saying an agreement but a clear road map, because that is what Syria is expecting from all of us.

Q. First, a demand can you please make sure that your team will announce the beginning and the end of various sessions in the next few days. Second, you were mentioning spoilers for the talks, who are the spoilers? And what might happen the next couple of days?

SdeM. First of all I cannot tell you what will happen in the next couple of days because we are starting those talks while at the same time cessation of hostilities is still progressing, 17 days, believe it or not, in Lebanon it used to last 20 minutes for a period and at the same time the humanitarian process is still going on, but not enough, so I can’t tell you what will happen in the next few days but what I can tell you is what we plan to do. What we plan to do is to move forward, first from what may be at the beginning slightly procedural and then into real discussion about the substance, I mentioned the agenda. Spoilers, I hope you and I will not see them taking place and having the opportunity but if that happens you will see yourself who they are.
Thank you very much.

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