Transcript of Joint Stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura and UN Senior Adviser, Mr. Jan Egeland, 15 September 2016
Geneva, 15 September 2016
SdeM: Sorry for changing hours but you can imagine there have been a lot of internal discussions and there has been a lot verification with the field as well. So I will say a few words then as usual give the floor to Jan Egeland and we will be taking some questions.
Let me start by saying that the Russian-American, American-Russian agreement last Friday is and remains, and is indeed, potentially a game-changer, on three areas, three areas, let me remind ourselves about them so we can go through them.
The first one is the reduction of violence - talking about cessation of hostilities perhaps is an ambitious word after a war of five years, but reduction of violence, yes. The reduction of violence, and you will be having further reports we will get after we verify today, is by and large frankly holding, in fact it has been substantial.
Second point, the second dividend of the Russian-American, American-Russian agreement was and remains humanitarian access, that is what makes the difference for the people, apart from seeing no more bombs or mortar shelling taking place. On that one, we have a problem and let me explain where and then will go to more details.
One, the government, I repeat, the government, was expected to provide facilitation letters. It is a bureaucratic word, translated into English: permits, authorizations to go. On the 6th of September, which means before the actual cessation of hostilities agreement, they had already indicated that they were ready to allow five areas for facilitation letters, in other words, authorization for the UN to go. The UN is ready to go. These facilitation letters, i.e., final permissions for the UN to actually reach those areas have not been received. That's a fact. It is particularly regrettable because during these days we are losing time. These are days which we should have used for convoys to move with the permit to go because there is no fighting. The Russian Federation is agreeing with us about this, so are the two co-chairs. This is something that needs to take place immediately. We cannot let days of this reduction of violence to be wasted by not moving forward on that.
Second point, Castello road. Let me tell you something that we have not been elaborating so far because the Russian-American, American-Russian agreement has not been officially given in details, but there is something that I think we can tell you and that we are aware of. The Castello road in the Russian-American agreement has a special status, a very special status. So the agreement says reduction of violence and unimpeded access, which means the five letters we mentionned. Castello road: special status, due to what has happened recently. What does it mean? Well the special status is that the two co-chairs are expected and, in my opinion, are working hard on this, to actually produce a disengagement along that short road of the government forces, those AOGs who are still in the area, and other armed groups. I won’t go into details how many meters, how many kilometers, that's something for the Russian and American co-chairs to explain. Once this is taking place - and it is urgently needed to take place according to the agreement -, then there will be a new form of checkpoints on that road, different from the ones we have at the moment, and which would be having a special status, sufficient by the two co-chairs, to actually reassure the unimpeded movement of UN convoys. So that’s what we are now waiting for.
Next point, what do we mean by special status? Special status is that while, for the rest of the country, we are going through this painful, very slow, facilitation letter process with the government, with Castello road and based on the Russian-American agreement, a special status means also that they would be only applying in that case what we call the UN MM approach, according to resolution 2165. Bottom line, the convoys are ready, 40 trucks, 20 - 20. They are ready and sealed and once they move, they will not be harassed, they will not be investigated, and they will be moving through that road all the way to eastern Aleppo. According to the UN MM, the government, rightfully so, according to the resolution, will be receiving a notification, simple notification - how much food, how many kilos of wheat, flour, milk or medicines there are on board, but no saying, you will take away that medicine or you will take out that food, and then a notification of what has been distributed in eastern Aleppo. That is what is called a UN MM approach.
That was agreed between Russia and America, that is what we are expecting the government, based on that, to actually apply for Castello road. In addition, we don't need obviously any politicization of the receiving end or anywhere on the aid, that's why I understand, in eastern Aleppo there currently a lot of discussions among the so-called local councils, AOGs in order to make sure that when the aid comes, according to this new approach, the aid will be welcomed.
Bottom line, Russia and the US are now expected, by themselves, and by us, to deliver the Castello road new arrangement. We heard today from the Russians that it is already beginning. If that is taking place and the AOGs are convinced by the US to do the same, disengage, then the next step quite rapidly would be this new form of checkpoints, and then, the UN MM approach, the 20 trucks are ready, notification has already been sent to the government, we heard it, through a note verbale, the trucks are expected to move without harassment and need to be welcomed without harassment as well. In that case, we are then moving, on Aleppo, eastern Aleppo which is in need.
What about the rest of the country? You heard it, facilitation letters to actually authorize the aid. If this happens, we are addressing the second aspect of the US-Russian agreement, or dividend, I would call it the humanitarian dividend.
The next one, as you know, is related to the so-called al-Nusra and the grounding of the Syrian air force. That is something that I am not going to talk about at this stage we go step by step.
I will stop there and give the floor to Jan Egeland.
JE: Thank you Staffan. We had a number of field reports to this humanitarian task force and indeed the good news is that our people on the ground confirmed that the cessation of hostilities is largely holding, the killing has been greatly reduced, in fact no reports on civilian killings the last 24 hours. Attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals have stopped.
The bad news is that we are not using this window of opportunity so far to reach all of these places with humanitarian assistance, like we did when this humanitarian task force was born out of the February agreement on the cessation of hostilities. We are ready, we can go today, we could go today, we are not. We hope to go tomorrow, to eastern Aleppo, we are ready to go before the end of the week to the other places that we asked for permission to serve in August, that were approved in the September plan by the government but the facilitation letters, the permits, have not been given yet, not a single permit is in hand for our people and if they don't have that, they cannot load and they cannot go, they will be blocked.
With these letters we will go to places like Moadameya, to Al-Waer, to Talbiseh to Douma, to all of the besieged areas, close to Damascus, close to Homs and elsewhere.
So our deal is the following, it is a simple one, can well-fed, grown men please stop putting political, bureaucratic, and procedural roadblocks for brave humanitarian workers that are willing to go to serve women, children, wounded civilians in besieged and cross-fire areas.
If they do that, we are willing and able to go to all of these places, in the next few days and we are very hopeful that we will indeed be able to do so. The co-chairs, the members of the task force promised to do all that is needed for us to get the access that is part of the Russian-US agreement.
SdeM: Thank you, can’t be clearer than that.
Q. I would like to know how much of a disappointment is it for you that after four days we still have seen no humanitarian aid into eastern Aleppo and other places? And I would also like to know, you said you wanted the trucks be able to go in without harassment, does this mean that if the government asks you to take something off the truck you will not accept it?
SdeM. As we said the Russian-American agreement, and that is based on our assumption that they have been discussing it with the other sides, is clearly saying, that once this disengagement takes place, we are going to have the UN MM approach. The UN MM approach is: notification, no picking up items, notification and then information. That is point one. Second, are we disappointed? Of course we are, but who is particularly disappointed? The Syrian people, who have been expecting that when there is a reduction of violence, and the UN ready with its trucks, they cannot move because of these times of hurdles. But disappointment doesn't mean that we are not agreeing in saying we need to move on those facilitation letters and we need quickly to move into the phase of the special status of the Castello road.
Q. I am not sure I quite understand, it sounds like you mentioned that there is a problem in terms of getting aid and Mr. Egeland you mentioned that you are expecting or you are hoping that aid will come in the next few days, there seems kind of expecting this to be resolved by tomorrow? Or the next day? And the second question is, you mentioned that Russia is disappointed, what has Russia told you that they are trying to do with the Syrian government to try to make this happen?
SdeM. The second point, you should ask Russia, they are the two co-chairs, they have been actively involved in very long negotiations and much of it has been on Castello road, frankly, so you should ask them. I do know and I can say, they are actively involved and today we got from them a further assurance that the issue about this facilitation letters is even for them a very major disappointment.
Point number one, regarding the impression that we are in a way having a different approach, no we are not. We are today explaining the reasons why the 20 trucks on the Castello road and the 100s of trucks that we have ready in the country have not yet moved, and that we are actively pushing for that to happen.
JE. And we can get the permits today actually, or they can come tomorrow morning and then it is only the time it takes to load trucks and then we will be going to all of these places and the 20 trucks are now already passed over the Turkish border in the buffer zone between the Turkish and Syrian border. They have been waiting and sleeping at the border now for 48 hours so they could go on a minute’s notice and we believe that all of these hurdles will now be overcome. The Americans with the local councils in east Aleppo, the Russians with the government.
SdeM. West Aleppo is being reached because it is open road by commercial aid and even there we are ready since we have warehouses. But let me put on record one thing which has been said today, the Turkish side on the border has been extremely cooperative, even during Eid and the argument that some have been using that during Eid offices are closed, we are not taking that in Syria as a valid point, because Syrian people are hungry, and in that case, one reason more for going to work during Eid, for doing it like we all have done.
Q. Mr. de Mistura, today Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Madam Zakharova said that your meeting with the Syrian opposition is
being worked out, but she advised the Russian journalist to ask directly the UN, that means you about details, does it mean that, taking into account, problems with the humanitarian track, you continue pressing with this political process?
SdeM. The spokeswoman of the Russian Federation is correct in what she said. Secondly we are obviously, as I said there are three pillars coming out from this Russian-American, American Russian agreement. One is cessation of hostilities, reduction of violence, which should be accompanied, and has not yet been accompanied, by humanitarian access. These two leading to the seven days and following that some other arrangements that I am not going to go into details at this stage, but you are familiar with, and that linked to the 21st of September Security Council special session, the re-launching, in a different environment, of the political process. So we are actively working on that assumption, so that's why it is so important that the different steps or benefits of dividends are actually taking place.
Q. You are waiting for permits, letters of authorization, letters, paper, what will happen if you went without them?
JE. It seems like an obvious question, why wouldn't we just go, they need us, we should just go - well because these are cross-line convoys, these are cross frontline convoys, checkpoints, so in some cases we wouldn't be able to load, because the security forces would be there when we load the trucks. In other cases, the first roadblock would turn away the convoy, we wouldn't be able to reach the place. All of this tremendous paper work has to be there, if not, the armed men will block our drivers from reaching women and children. It is as easy and as brutal as that.
SdeM. That letter is shown by our team in the warehouse, when some people come from the government saying are you authorized? Yes we are. That's why it is not just a paper, it is actually a green light and we need that especially now when we have a unique moment for being able to do it. You remember until now much of the problems was caused not by rain or earthquakes, it is caused by conflict. If the fighting goes down, no reason, no excuse for not being able to deliver.
Thank you very much.