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Transcript of press encounter by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, following his meeting with the High Negotiations Committee

15 March 2016

SdeM: We had a late afternoon meeting today; it started around 5:00 o’clock and ended a few minutes ago. It was with the HNC, the High Negotiations Committee. The first moment of this meeting was dedicated to commemorating by standing, everyone in silence for a minute; we should have been standing in silence for 300,000 minutes, remembering all those in Syria who have died during the five years of these tragic events of their own history.

We then went into the discussions about how to proceed on the discussions regarding the political process, and they have been raising particularly some issues, which we will be bringing to the attention of the taskforces. The question that we feel very strongly, and they do too, is of the detainees. There has been so far, as you know, the issue of humanitarian aid and the reduction of violence, but on the detainees’ aspect we have been having nothing in terms of outcome. And I think the humanitarian taskforce can be tasked with that, and I think through us the HNC will raise that and I am sure others will do the same.

The issue also about the humanitarian aid to reach other locations, particularly places such as Daraya, which is still pending, has been raised. Again our point and agreement was that we will make sure that the humanitarian taskforce will be able, including the one which is actually addressing the ceasefire, because there is a connection, as you know, between ceasefire and humanitarian aid.

Then we went into some general but quite important overall principals that can and should be actually educating the future of not only the constitution but also the transitional political process. We then exchanged papers but also ideas on how to get deeper into the discussion at the next meeting on the transitional aspect of the political process.

Now let me also address two points: one has been the new major development of the Russian decision announced by president Putin yesterday. We had made a comment, and I will simply at this stage repeat it. We consider this a significant – I repeat a significant – development. We hope, and we shall be expecting and hoping that this will be happening, that we will be seeing this decision bringing some positive influence on the actual progress of the talks. It is not a coincidence, or at least we should not consider it a coincidence, that that decision took place at the very beginning of the Intra-Syrian Talks, and that its political impact that we hope they will be producing.

Let me also address an issue which I have seen coming up in terms of questions. I am supported by a series of very competent and quite unusually professionally competent advisers and consultants; that's how we operate in a mission like this, particularly when we get into the talks. I have two very professionally competent, highly prepared German consultants, we have one British consultant, one Dutch consultant, two Swiss consultants and one Swedish consultant. And yesterday I decided that, in view of the fact that we are getting deeper into some of the discussions regarding the transitional political process, to appoint as my consultant professor Vitaly Naumkin, a Russian expert and academician. He is a consultant, which means he reports to me, not to his own mother country; none of the others do the same and they are actually on call for substantive issues, which I may require to be given good advice. I’ve actually offered same option for an equivalent option for an equally competent academician from the US. Why these two? Because they are the co-chairs and the more they are able to contribute professionally to my own capacity of better understanding, the better it is for us.

I would simply say that the talks continue. Tomorrow I am staying in the morning with the government delegation, early in the morning about 9:30. Then I will be leaving for Bern, because the Swiss government deserves to be informed and thanked for all what we are seeing and everything that is happening here. It is actually thanks to the help, coordination and funding of the Swiss authorities, and their taxpayers deserve to know why. I think it is time for doing so just while we are doing the talks.

I will take four questions:

Q: I know that the Syrian government presented a paper to you with their ideas. I understand the opposition put some ideas on paper. Can you give us any insight into what is in those documents and are you planning to produce your own paper of ideas of the way forward?

SdeM: I think you are helping me to clarify what is the procedure. You see the advantage of a mediator on top of it, having been given a large mandate from the Security Council in terms of organizing his own work in a conflict like this, is that he or she can do so. The approach I have been using at the moment is proximity talks. I know that some of the participants may want to meet, I will not stop that of course, but I will also feel when is the right time to have actually direct talks. The other way is to actually get all the input from all the sides and then metabolize them, see where there are overlapping, contradictions or even common thinking, and at a certain point when you look at principals we may be surprised how much Syrian, after all these are Intra-Syrian talks, do have some areas, at least some, in common. So I did get a paper from the government side. They may want to share with you or not; my duty is to actually do exactly what I mentioned and I am getting and I will be getting a paper from the opposition. We will analyze them, see whether we can make out of that a UN paper for instance, or whether we can actually add to it. That is the principal of negotiations.

Q: Have you informed the HNC delegation of the proposals or the paper submitted by the Syrian government and what was their reaction?

SdeM: That's not something I should be revealing, because it is part of the discretion of the negotiations, forgive me. But I still have to do my job and not be totally going into details.

Q: Not quite sure how many round of talks, you are the third Special Envoy. Do you sense that the atmosphere is different this time? And if so, to what exactly can you contribute to that?

SdeM: I have to be careful because I have been repeating it so many times: I am affected by this terrible chronic disease of being optimistic, otherwise I would not be able to do this job for so many years – so you may want to filter it to that please. But I do feel there is a difference, and the difference has been caused by three factors. There has been a sense of urgency and those factors have been caused unfortunately by the refugee crisis, has certainly been caused by the new factor we saw yesterday, starting to change the Russian military intervention, and certainly by the advances or at least non-defeat of Daesh. All this has produced a new momentum. The momentum I would call it the Vienna momentum, which then became the Munich momentum and now is back to the Geneva momentum. At the end of the day, what has changed is that countries are involved and engaged. We have Russia and America talking and being part of a common operations center. They are co-chairing two taskforces and we have 18 countries who are actually meeting; they are meeting in the taskforces so all that leads me to want to believe, even if we are going to have a very rocky time, and we know why, that we have a mechanism that we did not have before and certainly neither of my two predecessors had that type of privilege, neither of them had a unified Security Council. Yesterday I had a long meeting with the Security Council, and I had the impression that there was again some common understanding. It was not polarized; that was certainly helpful.

Q: You have used different terms for transition, transitional government and transitional governing body. These terms have different meanings legally and politically. What is the difference between them?

SdeM: That's exactly why we are having these negotiations. They are not going to be easy, they are going to be very tough, because the distance is still quite very big, but that is why we are having negotiations, otherwise we would have had a treaty and a ceremony here with a signature.

Q: How will you deal with any possible contradictions between the documents submitted by, on the one hand, the regime and, on the other hand, by the HNC, which we understand has 8 points?

SdeM: You seem to be very informed. Well again, I do not want to be appearing to be giving lessons of diplomacy, but that is exactly why we are having this type of negotiations. The secret is to take the points of one side and the other side and a third side, come up with our own common sense and techniques in order to try to merge, and when they can’t merge, actually to have a final new touch to it. Bottom line: that is what negotiations and diplomacy is all about.

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