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Transcript of press encounter with Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, after a meeting with the High Negotiations Committee (HNC)

17 March 2016

Staffan de Mistura (SdeM): Good evening. Well, it is a good thing to recap. We had today three events, and you must have had already one debriefing on that. We had the Humanitarian Task Force. Jan Egeland debriefed you on that. And the perception we have is that the progress this time is being slow, let’s be frank. But when we were actually having the meeting there was the news that the convoys were moving towards 50,000 new beneficiaries. But we are eager to see an incremental improvement of reaching people every day of every week.

The issue of Daraya has not yet been solved. We’re working hard on it. We’re using also the contact with the Russian military and with the Government in order to make sure that no one has any doubt that we will not give up on that Daraya needs to be reached among places... And the same applies to medical supplies, which is still a sorrow point, which is unacceptable and therefore needs to be addressed. Plans are (proceeding) for a larger arrivals of convoys, as Jan Egeland must have referred to you. The main message is: there is no excuse, no excuse for not progressing with humanitarian aid now that the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities is actually moving still forward and has been taking place for a while.

The issue of detainees as I promised was raised by me both with the Government, very firmly and clearly, and with the task force on humanitarian issues and the two co-chairs. We will raise it every time we have a task force; the issue needs to be addressed and it’s not only detainees but there’s also the abducted people and if you remember they were and they’ve been shown in Eastern Ghouta, you remember in those cages. So, we are looking at both cases, but the numbers of the detainees and the abducted are obviously enormously different, but they are reflecting the suffering of Syrian families.

Regarding the Task Force on ceasefire or cessation of hostilities. We have been noticing today that during the last three days have been surprisingly calm according to the reporters and everyone, including those who have access to additional information. There have been a few incidents, and there have at least been three people killed sadly – and one life lost is too many, but when you compare to what it used to be in particular in the last three days, this has been noticeable in the Task Torce.

This is not yet a trend, let’s be frank. So we remain, and need to remain, vigilant because things can change very quickly. But again, when there are improvements on security we need to capitalize from a humanitarian point of view, so the message is: this is the time to accelerate instead of reducing the acceleration of humanitarian aid. The Russian Federation’s representatives after the Task Force on the ceasefire explained the reasons for their own withdrawal and the fact that it took place not by coincidence the very day of the beginning of the Talks. I leave it to the Russian Federation to elaborate on that and not paraphrasing what they said. And you will have the opportunity, I’m sure, since they did so in a public meeting or at least in a large meeting.

The next Task Torces will take place on Wednesday because we want to dedicate next Thursday to wrapping up this phase of the Intra-Syrian Talks, and then we get to the Intra-Syrian Talks; today, this evening, we had an intense, in my opinion very productive, meeting with the HNC. They will come and follow me for their own comments. It was very substantive, papers on the political transition were actually distributed and they went very deeply into how they see the political transition being potentially implemented soon. We are going to study them very carefully, and add questions when needed in order to be able to share them with the other side. Certainly we want to better understand how all this can fit in to what could be a negotiating position, but we were impressed about the depth of the preparation they had. Tomorrow we will be meeting both Government and the HNC, and I will tell you more when the day is over. Thank you.

Q: After meeting both sides, did you talk about the common points between both delegations?

SdeM: It is premature for me to tell you the gray zone, in fact we still see that the distance between the two sides is large, but what we are looking for is areas of commonality and... therefore to identify the grey zones. I think we have started seeing clarity on what are their own positions. I hope I will get similar in-depth clarity from the Government. Which has been so far, more on the formal side, time is going by, we want to go deeply.

Q: Regarding political transition, how would you characterize what the government is doing?

SdeM : I think I will wait until tomorrow to answer, because we have had two meetings and they were rather procedural. There was one paper that you are familiar with eight points of principles but what we need to do is starting looking about political transition and what the government as such sees as a possible political transition. The question is without doubt, that we are not talking about a new agenda, the agenda is clear. So perhaps we will have more clarity tomorrow and I will be able to tell you.

Q: Could you specify about the possible point of agreement? And my second question is regarding the cessation of hostilities. Will there be any international peacekeepers on the ground and if yes how soon will it be?

SdeM: You are really running fast! (laughter) but its your privilege to have a vision... Regarding areas of commonality: on the principles yes, unity of the country, for instance integrity of the country, no discussions about federalism for instance and certainly any type of issue related to the respect of minorities or majorities, many other common principles, and the integrity of the borders. So we can see already on the principles. What we need to see is some beginning of common understanding of political transition, the mother of all issues.

Now the second point was regarding the peacekeeping, we are very premature on that. In a conflict environment, which is still potentially there because it’s just been so far more or less well controlled by the cessation of hostilities, the possibility of the Security Council, which is the only one to decide...to send UN military presence as peacekeepers, looks to me premature. But anyway it is up to the partners, the ones negotiating, and it is up to the Security Council.

Q: (In Arabic, interpreted in English) You received yesterday the delegation of the Moscow-Cairo Group, and tomorrow you will be meeting the delegation of opposition from the inside. Could you please clarify in which framework these meetings are being held and are they a third party to the negotiations?

SdeM: Thank you. Have you read resolution 2254? As a mediator, I am having the privilege, in terms of flexibility, to run these talks. This is why there are proximity talks and that’s why we are using different techniques. I am supposed to be as inclusive as possible in consulting, not finding consultants by the way, everyone who is Syrian and capable of contributing to that. Secondly and obviously, meeting those who represent, in the Security Council Resolution, the platform of Moscow and Cairo and especially the HNC; I am following that type of guidance.

Q: In the opposition delegation , there are four persons who were in Cairo and Moscow. Is this a form of implementing Resolution 2254 and does this inclusiveness, stipulated in this resolution, mean it must include all the groups including Riyadh, Cairo and Moscow.

SdeM: I invite you to read carefully Resolution 2254 and you will have the answer.

Q: Regarding the issue of detainees, what about the issue of abductees? As you know there’s a very large number of those who have been abducted, especially by the terrorist groups. Do you have any information on this regard?

SdeM: I think I did mention both. The numbers are, there is no doubt, and no one can question, enormously larger on the side of the detainees held by the government. But there are clearly many abductees, and I remember seeing those cages in eastern Ghouta, which was a clear evidence of that and a very unfortunate type of presentation. But the numbers are enormously different, and I think the Syrian families deserve that we should insist on both, for them to return to their homes quickly. Some of them are in awful conditions. Thank you very much.