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Transcript of press encounter by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, after his separate meetings with the delegations of the Syrian Arab Republic and the High Negotiations Committee

18 April 2016

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Staffan de Mistura (SdM): Good evening, it has been an intense day so let me recap my points if I may. Let me make some comments and then it will take some questions because I think it is worth it having your questions and I would take exceptionally five questions, in view of the long day.

First of all some general comments, if I may. No one can deny that the fighting currently taking place in some areas, particularly in Aleppo, is becoming particularly worrisome. Our assessment, however, and in this I think an objective assessment based on our information and on the analysis of the whole country (we have an operation centre), and when we compare it to what it used to be some time ago is that the cessation of hostilities is still holding in many areas but increase in fighting is indeed worrisome.

Second point: no one can deny also that the humanitarian access is still going too slowly. Yes we did succeed finally to having a small fact-finding mission and you will hear more about it tomorrow, in Daraya, led by a strong and courageous woman working on behalf of my office, Khawla Mattar, who went to Daraya and will report about this tomorrow, but there was no food following that we hope to be able to do so.

We may have tomorrow some convoys moving; we may even have indications about evacuations of wounded and sick people. And we may even have, over the weekend, some campaign of vaccinations, but still too slow. So tomorrow, at the HTF and at the CTF, the two task forces, both issues and concerns will be raised. And, indeed, if this trend continues, which is still worrisome, we will be obviously expecting and hoping that the two co-chairs of ISSG will be convening a special meeting.

All this to start preparing you for the political message, which I know you're aware of and I would like to elaborate on it. On the political track, we should not, and no one should, expect that after five years of conflict, a political transition by miracle in one week is sold. Let’s be frank about that. In fact, indeed, there is one major improvement in what we used to have: everybody agrees the word “political transition” is the point of the agenda. So far our discussion with the two sides has been focusing on what is the interpretation of the political transition, but (there is) no doubt about the need of doing that.

There is no secret that one side is insisting on the implementation of the TGB (Transitional Governing Body), and the other side – the government – has been now indicating their interest in launching an initiative for a broad-based government.

Both of them are claiming that this is the road towards political transition. The gap is clearly wide, but this is exactly the nature of negotiations. Especially when the agreement exists about the fact that there is no doubt that there needs to be a political transition, according to Resolution 2254.

Our strategy is to be able to get, from each of the two sides, as much information as possible of their own vision and see whether there are some areas that can be combined in view of the need of producing a real political transition. As you know, the timetable is up to August, that is what has been so far seen as a timetable for getting a new constitution and getting the political transition. So, we do have some time, not much in history but we do, and it is certainly not today or tomorrow.

Now let me get to the point that you must have heard: we heard today, I heard today, by meeting the delegation of the HNC, their intention to postpone their formal participation in the Palais to the negotiations in order to express their own displeasure and concern on the humanitarian situation degradation and on the problems related to the cessation of hostilities.

They told us, however, their intension to remain in Geneva, in their hotel, and possibly at my own suggestion, to pursue technical discussions, with myself and my team, particularly on the issues related to resolution 2254 and the political transition. Because they do realize that this requires time and cannot be solved in one week or three days.

Anyway you must know that we plan to continue our discussions and consultations with every side, in the Palais or anywhere else – proximity talks are very flexible –, and on Friday take stock of the discussions, review what we have come up with, having learned from every side their own positions, and then decide on how and when to move forward on what is expected to be a series of discussions, on and off, in order to focus on concrete political transition.

That is where we are at the moment. Now the questions are open.

Q: What are the conditions for the opposition to come back around the table here? Is that the humanitarian situation or is it the suspension of hostilities, particularly around Aleppo. Could you please give us more details if possible?

SdeM: I thought I did by having repeated twice what was my understanding on their own suspension of their formal presence in the Palais while still staying in Geneva in their hotel and possibly still continuing technical discussions regarding the TGB. And I think I refer to it that it is one way for them to express their displeasure and concern for what they perceive being a substantial deterioration of the humanitarian situation and a deterioration of the security environment, particularly in Aleppo.

Q: Can we understand that the two co-chairs don’t manage to support this dialogue? And what can we understand about the fact that you have proposed three vice-presidents, with or instead of Bashar Al Assad?

SdeM: About the co-chairs: Russia and US, they are the countries supporting ISSG, which produced the ceasefire. The cessation of hostilities is the energy behind which we have been able to launch humanitarian assistance, and we began to re-launch a political dialogue. Their engagement is essential, and we expect that they will be interested in doing so, because they have invested a lot of political capital on the question of the Syrian political solution. Their role is essential, so is the role of the region, and let’s not forget the Syrians.

About this idea of three or four vice-presidents: I repeat it was not my proposition, it was during a brainstorming moment, it was an idea among others from an expert, to produce some creativity in negotiations. I was expecting a negative answer from the government, because this is greatly limiting the power of the presidency, and I was also expecting, and was not surprised, to receive a negative answer from the opposition. But this produced a debate, and during negotiations you have to sometimes stimulate ideas.

The proof that it was nothing fundamental is that it is way too soon to make some propositions. We are still listening to both sides’ points of view. But sometimes, to produce some interest, we ask them to speak frankly with us, that was the only aim. It is too soon for any propositions.

Q: Is the idea of the transitional governing body dead? It is mandated by the UN Security Council resolution 2254 but you seem to be excepting that the Syrian government doesn't want it, and therefore you're looking for alternative ideas without really much discussion all the pressures seems to be on the opposition to make concessions, and the government doesn't seem to make any concessions and seems to be having the time, what about some concessions from the government?

SdeM: First of all let me correct you if I may, the transitional governing body is the idea is not at all dead, because it is still very much part of what was Geneva communiqué, and the Geneva communiqué is still very much valid, in fact it is the place from where we start in analysing everything including resolution 2254. The second point is, I do believe, that both sides have been there at the moment not yielding a coma, but that's normal in a negotiation. It is totally normal at the beginning you've always started from the maximum position and then eventually you'll start seeing whether there is any possibility for the sake of the Syrians to find a common ground, that is our job.

We were still talking to the two sides and listening to them and we are still, and it will continue for a while in order to go into details and then see whether there is a gap there that we can fill. Bottom line, both of them if you want, are being under pressure, or both of them are not yielding to pressure they are still maintaining their line, but the good news is that they are both talking about political transition. They are both understanding that, at a certain point, you have to go into details and the devil is in the detail but sometimes the solution is in the detail too.

The only drama is the one the Syrian people are going through every day and that's why I definitely will be pushing through the HTF and through the ISS that the humanitarian access and the respect of cessations of hostilities goes on and improve no doubt on that because that is what the Syrians are asking us but the negotiations are like that.

Q: Apart from the issue of political transition, today Mr. Jaafari focused on two instances of breaches of the ceasefire affecting the situation, first of all the provocative statement by the Israeli authorities as well as the call by one member of the Riyadh group to open a battlefront everywhere.

SdeM: On the issue about Golan, which I think is the one you are referring to, the official answer of the UN as such is the following: the official line of the UN is that the long-standing issue of the Golan is handled and addressed by resolution 242 and 497. Both resolutions are very clear vis-à-vis the illegal annexation of the Golan.

Regarding the other issue, my comment is that any inflammatory speech should be avoided because they are not helpful and especially while we are part of a negotiating team.

Q: Regarding the ceasefire at the beginning it was respected at a percentage of 90% but it went down to 70 and these breaches were mainly by the regime and the Iranians of all the other nationalities that the regime brought in. To what extent can you say that there is a ceasefire and to what extent can you say that there is no ceasefire? Thank you.

SdeM: I have been 46 years with the UN, in 20 conflicts in my life the Syrian one included. I never seen as ceasefire that was not going through difficult times and if I hear 70% I feel that the cessation of hostilities is holding but with danger and that is our assessment at the moment because 70% of the Syrian people are still alive thanks to the cessation of hostilities, they will tell you (inaudible) much better than what used to be and of course we should not be satisfied, that’s why we are all concerned. Thank you.

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