President of the Security Council: Good after noon, we had a very substantial and quite long discussion this morning on several issues, starting with Syria followed by Iran and then the situation in Ukraine. I wanted to make sure that I was able to stand here now next to Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy as token of support for the work that the UN is doing on Syria. There will be I believe a more extensive press statement made later on today that Council members are still working on. So just enough for me to say now that we’ve had a very good discussion this morning, a full brief of the situation including what happened in Astana and what happens now on the ground and what will happen next. And here I want to say that all Council members are expressing full support for Staffan de Mistura, and I would like to give you the floor now
SdM: Thank you for this warm introduction. Let me just make some few points, and then of course we will pick up some questions. The first one is, I think what the President of the Security Council said coincides perfectly with my own perception. It was a message today of the Security Council welcoming the Astana outcome and thanking the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan for giving the hospitality in organizing this very useful meeting and welcoming the outcome, which was actually the decision to have a mechanism in order to solidify, make the ceasefire which broadly quite effectively is working in Syria, in order to make sure that this is even more solidified.
Now there are three elements, this is my comment, which I made at the Security Council as (you) remember, which made this ceasefire have, in my modest opinion based on the experience of three ceasefires, more chances than any other, but of course, it needs to work on.
The first one is that in this meeting in Astana at the ceasefire level, we have armed groups, thirteen of them were present in Astana, and on the other side is the government.
The second is that there is serious intention to actually establish a mechanism, that was missing the other ceasefires, and three countries do have assets on the ground, you know what I mean by that. Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran have become the guarantors, so they have the capacity if they want and if they will, and they are showing intention of doing so to actually ensure that the ceasefire is holding.
Now the second point that came out, in my own understanding, was that there was a welcome to the intention of six of February to have a follow up technical meeting in Astana on the establishment of this mechanism, and the UN will be there because, frankly, we have seventy years of experience in ceasefire truces and similar difficult endeavors, and we will put it at the disposal of those who will be attending this follow up technical meeting on the cessation of hostilities ceasefire mechanism.
Now I had also, and thank you for reminding me, a strong feeling that there was a recognition by the security council members of the central role of the United Nations through the Secretary-General and his own Special Envoy for leading the talks on intra-Syrian discussions on the political process in Geneva.
And, in that connection I did ask, I know there were already some leakages and some indications on that. I did ask the Security Council, based also on the discussions I had with Secretary-General, to postpone the talks until the 20th, and I will tell you why, but to issue the invitations on or around the 8th of February. Why suggesting a small postponement, the 20th of February? First, we want to give a chance to Astana initiative to actually implement itself, if the ceasefire becomes solid as we hope, that will only help the serious talks to actually become concrete. Secondly, we want to give a chance both to the government to become seriously engaged in concessions and in discussions and we want the opposition, because things are changing radically and rapidly, to actually be able to be giving a chance to come with one unified opposition.
Now here comes an important point, this time, if by the 8th of February, the opposition will not be ready to come up with a unified group, I will have to, and I have been asking the Security Council for their own support and blessing, I will have to apply what I have not yet applied, which is a prerogative that 2254 gave to the Special Envoy to actually finalise the delegation in order to make sure that it can be as inclusive as possible, including women which has not been the case, and as effectively representing the spectrums of both armed groups and the political opposition in order to be able to be counter balancing the Syrian government in discussions regarding the agenda and the agenda is 2254.
There has been a concern, I have been expressing it too about humanitarian aid and I have to say it, because normally as you know Syria, the problem of humanitarian access is not due to snow, earthquake or rain, it is because there has been a conflict and fighting and danger of going here or there to bring food and medicines.
Now, there is a ceasefire, there is no reason that one cannot accelerate humanitarian access to those areas, which are besieged and everywhere in Syria.
The sooner we have a ceasefire and a political process, there will be a much easier possibility for everyone to focus on priority one, which is fighting the terrorist organizations identified by Security Council, al-Nusra and Daesh.
I will stop here and I am ready for questions.
PoSC: I will not answer any more questions but I want to say that the Ambassador of Ukraine is ready to come in after our session here.
Q: what is the agenda of Geneva Talks this time, are you going to discuss forming a unity government or transitional body?
SdM: Ok, have you read 2254?
Good, I know, governance, constitution, elections, the rest I will not elaborate on because that is something we will have to discuss with the Syrian sides.
Q: You mentioned Iran and Turkey and Russian as guarantors, it’s not that you have heard from the members of the council as well, that there is no Arab presence, no Arab country. How do you feel about that, and what are you doing about it. And secondly, what is it that we are now at one point there was a Russian disagreement with Iran as to whether the withdrawal of foreign forces applies to Iran militia as well. You have not pronounced yourself clearly on that to my knowledge. Has there been an agreement that foreign forces applied to the militias that are run by Iran, and then how can they be guarantors. What did they give to make themselves legitimate as guarantors?
SdM: Let me start with the first point. It was raised in the Security Council; it’s not a secret, the issue about the involvement, engagement of Arab countries, and I myself said that Syria doesn’t happen to be in Antarctica, it is in the Arab region, there is no way that we will not be in any opposition of involving the Arab countries in what affects all of them. That’s why tomorrow I’m meeting the Arab League representatives and that’s why it is so important to bring and keep the whole debate of the intra-Syrian talks under the UN umbrella in Geneva, because that’s the best way to include everyone in the UN into that.
Regarding militias foreign fighters, there is a Security Council resolution about it. The issue about foreign fighters and militia I know will be an important point to be discussed among the Syrians because as you know this is one thing that everybody has been saying that there is a need to, at a certain point, to leave it to the Syrians not the foreigners to be involved in the conflict. I am not elaborating on details because I leave it to the Syrians.
Q: From your point of view, you said Iran is a guarantor as well, are you saying Iran has the right to keep its militias in Syria until later stage, is this what you are saying? Has there been a clarification what the reported differences between Russia and Iran on this very matter of militias.
SdM: First of all, don’t put in my mouth what I didn’t say please, what I simply said is that Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of a ceasefire, I didn’t say a guarantor who is inside the country, the rest will be handled by them.
Q: It was brought to us by diplomats coming out of the Security Council that you didn’t mention the word transition, political transition, not even once during briefing to the Security Council, are you still beholding to the transitional period, political transitional period, stipulated in the Geneva Communique. Is that still a basis of what the British Ambassador said that there is no progress without a political transitional period?
SdM: You seem to be well informed about what was said inside the meeting. It is true; the British UK Ambassador said exactly that. What I said is that I am to be guided by 2254 and if you read 2254 you know what it means.
Q: It was Russian who called for the meeting in Astana, did the Russians decide to postpone the meeting of February 8, and are the Russians now leading the big case, the whole thing now is in the hands of Russia?
SdM; Well, first of all, no I think it’s fair to say that Russia is an extremely active, proactive, important player in the current Syrian environment, and the very fact that they have been engaging themselves militarily and politically is obvious and they have been pushing for the Astana meeting but they were not alone, Turkey and Iran were with them and it didn’t take place in Moscow but in Astana exactly for the reason wanting to maintain some type of independent look.
Regarding the postponement, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, did announce, according to his understanding, I would be postponing the meeting up till the end of February. Well, I think the truth is that I have been trying to keep everyone informed, including Russia, of my possible intention to postpone it and it was actually conveying our intention not the Russian intention and I appreciate that.
Q; You spoke about that you will exercise more power in the election of the delegations and that brings us to the participation of Kurds. We know Turkey has sort of vetoed the participation of PYD or any group that is related to PKK, but would you try to bring other Kurdish groups to Geneva to hear their perspective about the future of Syria in this process and are there any serious attempts by you and by your office to include them in the talks?
SdM: Can I ask you one thing, I hope you realize how delicate the task that the UN, myself on behalf of the Secretary-General is going to take. If I am indicating by the 8th of February, the opposition would have not, thanks to the pressure I hope they are getting from the countries and sponsors, succeed in having a unified opposition, that I will be then having the responsibility, which is going to be a complicated one to actually organize the invitations based on 2254. So I hope you don’t want me to talk about how the delegation will be before I do so. Why don’t you wait instead until the 8th of February and see how this will be implemented.
Sorry I’m not going into more details on that.
Q: What do you mean by the mechanism, and how is Hezbollah fitting in any of this?
SdM: The mechanism, when we refer to mechanism on the ceasefire, means a series of rules of the game, agreed upon by all the guarantors and the fighting sides, in order to know what do you mean by an incident, how do you detect the cause of the incident or who is infringing the ceasefire and what would the consequences to that. Three, to have actually a team, a group, a commission made of competent people and that’s why the UN can help not in being a guarantor but advising on how you do it, in order to, every time you monitor and then follow up on an incident.
One more question.
Q: The US has come out with this idea of safe zone and whether when you discussed with Ambassador Haley, this was discussed and also with the new Secretary-General, your spokesperson in Geneva had said that you would be coming to New York to speak to Antonio Guterres, have you done so and what is his role in the process you are describing?
SdM: I am in constant touch with the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, because he is very engaged, very interested in solving or trying to see how the UN can contribute to solving the Syrian crisis and tragedy. He said it from the very beginning, from the first day.
Secondly regarding this first question, the answer we have not discussed it. The Ambassador didn’t raise it, I didn’t raise it.
Thank you very much.
New York, 31 January 2017