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Transcript of press conference by the UN Special Envoy for Syria - Opening of the 6th round of intra-Syrian talks

15 May 2017

SdM: I have here with me Stephanie Koury, who is our director in the office we have in Damascus, and on my right side Ambassador Ramzi, who has just been back from a short mission to Damascus.

This is basically a preparatory meeting in order for us to try to give you an idea in what direction we're going, and basically also give you some ideas on when we can also interact again, because I think it's only fair that you should know this is a little bit different than the other meetings. First thing to tell you is that we are having all the delegations coming, all of them. When you say all, that means those mentioned according to 2254, and you're familiar with it and basically as we have had in the last rounds of talks.

The agenda - it is not true what I read that there is no agenda - the agenda is the one we achieved already and we agreed upon, already in the previous two rounds, in which we agreed on four baskets, as you remember, all of them important, all of them in parallel.

The intention, however this time, is to go a little bit more deeply and actually be more business-like, both in our meetings and in the way we hope we can get some progress. Even the rooms will be smaller, the type of meetings will be a little bit more interactive and proactive, and more frequent. We will also choose some subjects to be focused on, in order to be able to get more movement from each of the baskets or some of the baskets in particular, that will depend on our discussions with the delegations.

There is no doubt that this meeting was urgent also in view of the Astana memorandum. We are working in tandem, in a way. Of course if Astana did not exist, we will still have the Geneva talks, you can imagine, but in view of the fact that the Astana memorandum has been signed by three major players, and that we witnessed it and that the people of Syria and ourselves want a de-escalation in the conflict, we would like to be able to make sure that meanwhile the two are working in some form of thing. I give an example: everybody's been telling us and we agree, that any type of reduction of violence, in this case de-escalation, cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon in one direction or the other. That is exactly what we are pushing for.

Now there are dates which are mentioned in the Astana memorandum, one is getting very close to now, the 19, 20th, so you can see the timing coinciding somewhat. Then we have another one in early June, and in fact our intention is to have the continuation of this round of talks, continuation as if we had one moving and then waiting for a moment, due to Ramadan by the way as well, and logistics, during Ramadan continuation.

The targeted end date of this is around Saturday or Friday depending on how we get to a certain point. The idea therefore is to re-launch the continuation of this round, sometime during Ramadan, we will then indicate the proper date.

Now, regarding logistics, due to the fact that these meetings are, this round of meetings, particularly focus on trying to get a little bit more into business-like approach, we will not have stakeouts, as we have been used to have. We may have them again at the next round, but trying to go a little bit more into a business-like approach to be available for eventual stakeouts, if and when we deem on my side and my team that being the case. That will also, in a way, try to apply also to the players, the participants, of course. We will urge them not to talk to the media every five minutes or every time there is a meeting, but that doesn't mean that this will work. So I will leave it to their own judgement. And you [should] know that Alessandra would be able to brief you: we are having a slightly different arrangement in terms of stakeout which is a little bit more ecological.

I will stop there at this stage, because this is simply a curtain raiser, I intend definitely to give you the opportunity of having an idea on where we will be by Friday or Saturday and then, as I said, I am keeping my hands free for intervening, if we require or feel that there is a need for it.

Thank you.

Q: You mentioned Astana and the connection with the Geneva process, and Ambassador Ramzi just came back from Damascus, and we could hear the President Assad say to Belarussian television that the Geneva meeting is only for the medias, and that the only one which counts is Astana. So what kind of commitments can you feel from that party to the talks with that kind of quotes, and I don’t know whether Ambassador Ramzi could elaborate on the kind of connection he had in Damascus with the government in that regard?

SdM: I will give the floor to Ambassador Ramzi, because he has just returned and he made some declarations himself in Damascus. I would not obviously want to comment or getting into any type of comment regarding declarations made by President Assad. What I can say simply [is] that his delegation has arrived, and they are empowered to serious discussions and they are here to work. So, Ambassador Ramzi.

RER: Thank you Special Envoy. As the Special Envoy indicated, during my trip to Damascus, we confirmed the agenda, the four baskets and we will move in parallel, that is very clear, but we had also said earlier that it is possible that we can accelerate one or two of the baskets, and they do not disagree with that. What I heard in Damascus is that they will deal constructively with whatever proposals we will put forward.

I have no reason to doubt that. I think we will see that when we will meet with them tomorrow. They are engaged in the Geneva process, they have indicated that they want to work with us on the political process as outlined in Security Council resolution 2254, I think that has been absolutely clear in my meetings. So I do not see that the government is not going to take the kind of attitude that we feel is necessary to keep the political process moving ahead. Thank you.

Q: Mr. de Misutra, during the previous rounds, and up to this moment, there have been no direct meetings between the Syrian opposition delegation and the Syrian government delegation, I wonder, when would be a direct meeting between the two delegations to directly discuss the political process?

SdM: I did refer to it last time when we met some of your colleagues. Of course, for a mediator, the ideal is reaching the point when the two sides or the different sides can meet in the same room and the mediation takes place between the two, but it is also true that when there are still substantial differences, and no one can deny there are still substantial differences, the best method is still proximity talks.

Do not forget, we did have an occasion where everyone sat in a major room in this building to signify, in fact, their interest eventually to be able to be in the same room at the end of the day. But at this stage, unless I see any opportunity that leads me to actually reach that point, I’m still going to apply the golden rule of the mediator among people who still disagree, which is proximity talks.

Q: Monsieur l'envoyé spécial, est-ce que vous pensez que la reconquête de Damas qui va bientôt avoir lieux, le fait que le régime ait reconquis Alep, change sa position justement dans ces discussions de proximité vis à vis des autres groupes, et est-ce que l’intention aussi de discuter du fait que ces zones où l’on va installer petit à petit la paix ne puissent pas être vérifiées par un organe des Nations Unies? Est-ce que vous allez discuter de ce fait durant ces proximity talks? Merci.

SdM: Avant tout, tout ce qui se passe sur le terrain a un impact sur les négociations ou sur les discussions politiques. Il n’y a pas de questions sur ça. La preuve c’est que dans le passé nous avons eu des développements sur le terrain qui ont immédiatement eu un impact négatif ou positif, ça dépend du point de vue et surtout ça dépend des circonstances. Dans le cas spécifique, je peux vous dire qu’évidemment on [ne] va pas ignorer ce qui se passe sur le terrain et on ne peut pas l’ignorer. Deuxièmement, je ne peux pas vous dire quel impact cela va avoir parce que ça va dépendre de la réaction des différentes délégations.

Sur la question des “de-escalation areas”, je ne sais pas comment l’appeler moi-même en français, nous avons quand même beaucoup insisté sur le fait qu’il y a quand même une “labor division” entre nous et Astana. Astana, il y a trois pays importants qui ont [de]l’influence, qui ont aussi la volonté, la possibilité d’insister pour qu'il y ait une vraie “de-escalation”, qui se sont engagés à Astana, entièrement, signant un papier, un mémorandum, pour qu’il y ait un progrès. Et ils ont un timetable. Je ne pense pas, et je n’ai aucune intention d’interférer avec ça, au contraire je pousse avec la communauté internationale pour que cet accord puisse devenir opérationnel sur la base des réunions à Astana, et s’il y a des difficultés cela devrait être discuté à Astana et dans le contexte d’Astana. Comme ça, chacun se sent engagé dans ce que l’on a promis ou essayé de promettre de faire, donc je m’arrête là pour le moment sur ça.

Q: Also on Astana, and also on this de-escalation zone, how do you see the idea of the participation of foreign troops in order to assure those areas? How does this fit in your political process here? Thank you.

SdM: Decisions regarding international monitoring presence and observation are decisions which go far beyond my own thoughts. In other words is not up to me to suggest or promote that. It is up to the Security Council on the basis of recommendations coming from the Secretary-General. What I can say is that any type of decision that may be taken by the Security Council, eventually, in order to ensure that a de-escalation becomes real, is something that we would certainly look at. We have had in the past, in other conflicts, the international presence of observers but it was decided by the Security Council.

Q: Mr de Mistura, sometimes you ask about the American role in the political process. Do you feel satisfied today or now about the engagement of the American administration in the political process here in Geneva?

SdM: The word “satisfied” is something that one should not always use the with a mediator because the mediator will only be satisfied once the mediation has produced an outcome. But I am encouraged by the increasing engagement, increasing interest by the US administration in finding a de-escalation, a reduction of violence and in the possibility of a comprehensive implementation of [Resolution] 2254. I am, and therefore we are in touch with the US administration. Myself [I] have been in Washington more than once and I know we have been discussing with them in Astana and here. So from that point of view that would be my answer.

Q: Special Envoy, Kurds are part of all the delegations you invited to the talks. But [we] can see [that] Kurdish national council is part of the HNC. According to my information, they sent you a letter regarding demands of Kurds for the future of Syria. Could you tell us please if you got any letter from the Kurds or from their government delegation on the vision for the Kurds for the new Syria or [for] the future of Syria from the government or from the opposition? Thank you.

SdM: I am not going to elaborate on the type of letters I am getting. You have to understand that and you seem to be more informed than I am so anyway it is probably a rhetorical question. We are reading every letter we receive and I certainly take those letters seriously, I will stop there. You should know that in the delegation of HNC I have been assured there are Kurdish representatives and that the Kurdish community in Syria, made by the Syrians is an important community that no one of us should ever ignore. Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon Mr de Mistura, just to pick up on both points that were brought up by my colleague here and Laurent who mentioned the comments that Mr Assad made on Belarus television. There are questions of course about when are you going to get the two sides together. I mean, when are you going to show some concrete evidence that proves that what Mr Assad reportedly said is actually not true, that there is actually relevance to this process? And I would also like you to please elaborate, how concerned you are about how events on the ground may be going faster than you are in the sense that we have seen some evacuations from inside Damascus for example and that the entire capital appears like accepting fully the return of the control of the government. So why continue with the Geneva process?

SdM: You are questioning your own engagement into it. Anyway, let me be serious about it, first of all President Assad has a tendency of answering questions with questions himself when you see the interview, so I will do the same if I may. Why would you think that President Assad is interested in sending 15, 18 people led by a very senior and highly experienced diplomat like ambassador Jaafari who is the same one and sending him to Geneva for several rounds and coming today in order to discuss issues on the political process if he did not believe in what Ambassador Ramzi just told you, that they are interested in, and potentially involved into the political process? So I would just ask you that question.

Q (follow up): As Laurent mentioned, he (President Assad) said the reason he is doing it is for the cameras so that is the answer he is giving. What do you say?

SdM: I would say that I am aware much more that what the Syrian delegation says to the camera and in the meetings that they have done so far with us on the four baskets, and I want to believe and hope in the next day's meetings, are much more substantive than just those general comments that are made for the cameras. But facts will prove it.

You raised about the fact on the ground, I think I replied to a certain degree that the facts on the ground do have an impact. I cannot tell you today what impact will they have and they are having, because we have not yet started this round. In the past, they did [have an impact] and we are taking them into account to, in our own discussions. That is all I can tell you at this stage.

Q: Is there any sanction, any punishment if the Syrian government is turning up here, just as a smokescreen to cover what they are doing on the ground, they can just keep coming, you are acting in good faith, but if they are not, there not much that the world can do about it. The other question I wanted to ask you is, you said that we need to aim for a political horizon to sustain the de-escalation and you hoped to reach a certain point this week, and you also mentioned possible need for Security Council involvement so what will we see this week, have you got some goal in mind, when the Security Council get back involved in the Geneva process?

SdM: Now, you're going a little bit further than what would be a curtain raiser, and it’s your duty and your job. And my job is trying to do my job during this week, so can I elaborate on that at the end of this week?

Q: Just a follow up, it seems that if Mr. Jaafari is turning up here, just to keep the cameras rolling and to provide a smokescreen, he can do that, I don’t know quite what words to use on life T.V, but you are being involved in this process and unwittingly, been slightly used for diplomatic purposes, does not that bother you, if that is what is going on?

SdM: First of all, if being a mediator and trying to find common points is being used, I think I would accept that, because the alternative is no discussion, no hope, no political horizon, just waiting for facts on the ground to take place, and that I think is something that the mediator has to take into account. Secondly, I think I am also, perhaps, using the fact that there is a resolution 2254, which has engaged everyone, and there is no alternative, as far as we believe, to simply facts on the ground, because facts of the ground alone would not produce the outcome in Syria.

So we continue pushing, I will not elaborate on what I expect at the end of this week. Everything is connected, there are big important meetings taking place, they will be taking place, there are discussions taking place in other capitals, they do have an impact on what we discussed, but I'm not going to elaborate now.

Q: Good afternoon Mr de Mistura, since you are referring to 2254 I'd like your views and Mr Ramzi's as well. In the months of April alone, there were between 23 to 30 attacks on medical facilities, we are a few days before the World Health Assembly with the world health community will be in the Palais [des Nations]. What is your message, why is this carnage continuing and why is it getting not sufficient attention from world leaders?

SdM: The attacks on the medical facilities will be remembered as one of the stains horrors and justices, outrages, of this conflict. This has been a pattern and been a regular pattern and has been an increasing pattern, even recently. So I am convinced that the WHO, which has been the case in the past, will strongly refer to it. We are and every time we have a meeting both at the CTF or HTF or bilateral meetings, we are raising it very strongly. One day, history will judge even more harshly what has been the worst case scenario in terms of protection and respect of medical facilities, thank you.