Transcript of press conference at close of 7th round of intra-Syrian talks by UN Special Envoy for Syria, 14 July 2017
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS
Transcript of press conference by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at the end of the 7th round of intra-Syrian talks
Geneva – 14 July 2017
SdM: Good evening and again, sorry for this hour, but I just ended a few minutes ago a very, for me, an important Security Council meeting. It was a meeting in which I detected, first of all, with great gratitude a complete, total and unanimous support to what we are trying to do here - and second, a clear indication of the importance of one single negotiating process in Geneva. Three, something that I had not seen for a long time in the Security Council: quite a change in the tone among them, between them, while addressing this. It is clear that what has been happening in the Astana, the Amman de-escalation initiative, the meeting in Hamburg between the US President and the President of the Russian Federation, yesterday the meeting between President Macron and President Trump and the focus that they all are trying now to have together about some priorities, and the idea of having some type of the common urgency, is certainly helping the atmosphere but also helping our job.
So as I told you we are not working in a vacuum, luckily, and all what I have been seeing recently is just the opposite. They seem to be all interested in making sure that what we are doing, which is a preparatory work, we’ve said it, is going to be fruitful soon when all stars getting closer to each other. So let me talk about the current seventh round. We have just concluded it, and we have made, as we were expecting and hoping, incremental progress - no breakthrough, no breakdown, no one walking out, incremental progress.
You remember that in the previous round we had established a technical consultative mechanism, which is one way to actually get deeper into issues - why did we do it, why are we doing it?
First, because we don't need to go technically in detail on many subjects that are not necessarily the most contentious ones, so that when we are ready with the real negotiation or a substantive negotiation, which may be not that far, we have taken care of a lot.
We also needed some way to assist the opposition to start working closer together, and we have, I believe, advanced on both goals, and I think the technical and consultative mechanism is actually proven to be quite effective in preparing the ground for the negotiations.
With the opposition, I think we have built on the good technical sessions that we have been having last week in Lausanne, and we had here as well in Geneva. Experts from HNC, Cairo platform and Moscow platform with the help of our experts have continued technical work by focusing on the basket three issues related to elections for instance, which had not been touched in the past. They have been identified quite a lot of broad areas of possible common approach, in addition to this technical agreement or on the progress, I would say, there have been a genuine effort among them to build something they didn't have before, trust, mutual trust.
I would have not have imagined two months ago that they would be sitting in such an intensive and constructive way together, in confidence. I was pleased in fact, and I told you already, that there are leaders actually attended with me at the beginning, the leaders of the three opposition delegations, the invitation for a constructive working lunch, which already gave me the feeling that they intended to go further.
It is positive also that the three delegations now have asked us and wish to meet again shortly in July to continue together this type of joint work, in order to be back to ready for when - and I tell you now - we intend to have the next round in September, early September.
For the Government I have been continuing working with them on trying to have some discussion regarding what had already been discussed during round six, especially regarding the so-called living 12 points, that had been discussed also here with them at the technical level. They gave us their own views, and we have been able to identify some matters which are of importance for addressing the constitutional issue.
Regarding the political talks, the government also conveyed to us the readiness to engage the UN in the next round on all four baskets, we have been asking them then to get prepared for that, of course.
One good interesting thing that I noticed during this round was that none of the invitees have had any problem in addressing an issue that everybody outside has been discussing. Look at Paris yesterday, or in Hamburg, or elsewhere, or by the way, in Paris there was a remembering alsoof the fact it is one year after Nice attack by terrorists. Both government and the opposition, therefore, have been quite willing to outline how they are combatting UN-designated terrorist entities in Syria.
And when we closed today since I felt that there was an expectation for the UN to also indicate where we are on the fight against terrorism, which is becoming the main issue being discussed at the highest possible level elsewhere, and since I feel it should not be the ownership of any of the parties - as you know the government has been often saying we are looking at this as the main focus - no one else is doing it, I think I found the opportunity this time to actually clarify some thoughts about it.
One, the fight against terrorists is fight against those defined by the Security Council – okay?, we're not going to select who is a terrorist here - it is those which have been identified by the Security Council, and the fight against those terrorists identify by the Security Council in Syria, on the Syria issue, is very clear. There has been a clear Security Council resolution on that, and it is a priority.
Two, we want to see the full implementation - and there I think there has been a slow, very slow reaction so far and we need to see it now -, full implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions including the ones about arming and financing terrorism, terrorists as indicated by the Security Council, those including the movement of foreign terrorist fighters.
Three, we expect to see increasing and accelerating efforts against Security Council-listed terrorists in Syria and whenever feasible some type of coordination of those efforts. We have seen in fact some of this happening in fighting against ISIS by the international coalition and their own allies in Raqqa, and we have seen the government and its allies doing it in areas around Aleppo, Homs and Hama, where terrorists identified by the Security Council are present - not wherever any [kind of] fighter is [present].
But the fight against terrorism must be accompanied, point number four, by concrete efforts to protect civilians, it must not be at any moment a possibility, or an opportunity for using any type of prohibited weapons or weapons causing mass civilian casualties, and it must be done in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. It must never serve as a pretext to deny humanitarian access to any civilian population. Civilian people who happen to be unfortunate, unlucky enough to be under the control of any of those terrorist organizations listed by the UN, should not be punished twice by also not having any type of humanitarian access.
And seven, last but not least - and that is a lesson we should have learned from the experience in Iraq -, the best guarantee against terrorism in Syria is an agreed political solution through an inclusive UN-led transitional political process guided by the Security Council resolution 2254 - otherwise in three month-time after Raqqa, there would be a new entity coming up and they would be calling themselves differently and we will be back to that. Instead, an inclusive political process means that those who feel disenfranchised will not be tempted by supporting or tolerating those who believe in the terrorists.
We are engaging Syrian from all walks of life in the context. We are obviously very keen in continuing including, and we did this time, women and civil society. The Women Advisory Board - we have consulted them more than once, and they have been extremely helpful, and they have been advising us also on the technical meetings. And now that we are having a series of meetings with the Civil Society Support Room team, who are travelling both in Beirut and in Gaziantep and in other locations.
Next steps, I told you I intend to convene intra-Syrian talks again in early September, and I have asked the parties to be ready to offer clear, substantive positions on issues across all four baskets - and we hope that the we would be at least pushing them to sit in the same room. We will see by that time the international momentum that is benefiting our work and is helping us may be able to actually push all sides to finally sit in the same room and start talking about substance.
Thank you I will be stopping there, and then I will take questions.
Q: M. l’Envoyé spécial, j’aimerais connaitre la prochaine étape de votre travail, autrement dit les priorités de votre prochaine médiation.
SdM: Les priorités pour les prochains mois et quelques jours avant la prochaine réunion de septembre seront premièrement, soutenir ce dialogue direct qui existe entre les différentes composantes de l’opposition. En juillet nous allons soutenir encore une fois, beaucoup plus, ce travail d’intégration entre les différentes composantes de l’opposition pour qu’il puisse y avoir des points en commun forts, et quand nous commencerons les pourparlers officiels ce sera beaucoup plus clair du côté de l’opposition. Deuxièmement, nous allons soutenir tout ce qui aidera à une désescalade que nous espérons durable avec les réunions d’Astana - et comme vous savez Astana soutient Genève et Genève soutient Astana. Mais aussi les discussions à Amman. Si la désescalade continue cela aide énormément l’esprit des pourparlers mais aussi la crédibilité envers les Syriens, pour qu’ils voient que cela avance.
Q: Ces 6 ou 7 points que j’ai entendus, à qui les proposez vous, est-ce aux nations du Conseil de sécurité, y aura-t-il une organisation de contrôle et est-ce que ces points seront discutés entre Syriens ? Cette initiative de votre part est adressée à qui ?
SdM: Avant tout c’est une contribution de la part de l’ONU au débat qui continue d’être très important et très actuel sur le terrorisme et le contre-terrorisme. Deuxièmement, je viens de faire le même commentaire au Conseil de sécurité, et j’ai noté un soutien total à tout ce que nous venons de dire dans le but de remettre dans un bon contexte la lutte contre le terrorisme dans le contexte syrien. Je m'arrête là, pour le reste c’est au Conseil de sécurité et sans doute ils s’attendaient à ce que l’ONU donne une opinion sur ça, le silence n’était pas une bonne idée - et vous avez vu qu'à Paris la priorité était contre le terrorisme ainsi qu’à Hambourg, les discussions entre les Russes et les Américains et tous les autres. C’est quand même comment se battre contre le terrorisme mais ils attendaient que l’ONU puisse expliquer dans quel contexte, et selon notre avis, le contexte est détaillé par ces 7 points que je viens de communiquer au Conseil de sécurité.
Q: Your proposal to the Security Council today is similar to more than 15 resolutions on fighting terrorism, what are the mechanisms and these countries that you have mentioned and you said they have changed their stances and positions, why are these countries attached to imposing sanctions on the Syrian people and what this your role to lift the sanctions on the Syrian people?
SdM: The issue about sanctions was not raised in the Security Council meeting today. When it will be raised, we would be expressing our own opinion obviously, but at the moment it has not been expressed.
Q: Is it your concern that if you push too hard on core issues that may close the door to future talks?
SdM: When I met your special envoy yesterday [Chinese special envoy], he told me that in Asia in particular and his own personal experience is that the best way to address the very complicated intense issues such as the conflict in Syria, which is probably now qualified as the most complicated conflict we have seen in many many many years, is to do it by incremental steps until the right moment, when you then do the push. So I think I will just follow his advice and that's what I'm trying to do.
Q: I recall between the second and third round you made it very clear that, ahead of the third round, you wanted all sides to come to the table with specific proposals on governance and political transition. Here we are after all these months. The regime side said anything in any meeting at any round which gives you the impression that they will, at some point, tackle political transition and governance? What is your level of optimism that they will address that specific topic?
SdM: If I had to base myself on what I've heard during this round I would say no, I don't have an indication. But what I do believe is that what are going to be the next steps of the international community wanting to see an acceleration of the end of this conflict, may help the government to be ready, and I've been asking them for the next round, to be ready to address the political process. In other words all four baskets.
Q: How do you see the creation of a contact group articulate with your work? Like maybe with the case of Astana initially that it might somehow overshadow the work that you do, how do you see that articulating with your own efforts here?
SdM: I've been quite intensely in touch with the team of President Macron in the last two months, and we have been discussing together how France, with a dynamic and very proactive president could contribute to the work that the UN is doing. France is very strongly in favor of the UN role, they are one of the P5 members and they come up therefore with a serious offer initiative linked to meeting the Russians and meeting, at the highest level, and now the Americans. Yesterday evening after their own meetings, I had discussions with them with the French senior diplomats who insisted on the fact that all this is meant and will be meant in supporting what we're trying to do here, and I frankly warmly welcome that. I don't see any problem in having any maximal help in making sure that we get into serious negotiations. So I look forward to the follow up to that.
Q: Regarding the statement issued by the international community regarding counterterrorism there is a great deal of optimism. Are you in contact with the Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian government in order to get them to stop financing terrorists?
SdM: We are, I am, that's one of the advantage of working in this capacity, in touch with every single country related to Syria. We are constantly in touch with them and every country who I am in touch with are aware of those important Security Council resolutions which I referred to. The one about financing, about arming and supporting or allowing in fighters. And therefore I'm not pinpointing any country, I'm just saying that we are being constantly in touch with everyone and today we reminded the security in the context of Security Council that while it is a priority fighting those terrorists which are listed in the Security Council, it is also crucial to actually implement those resolutions which were adopted by the Security Council.
Q: Ambassador Jaafari left saying he didn't recognize the opposition as a legitimate partner in these talks and the HNC is now saying that they see the whole process is in danger because of the refusal of the regime to sit down and talk. Is this not an insurmountable position?
SdM: In every negotiation - and particularly when we are in the so-called pre-negotiating phase -, there is some posturing and there are some pre-established statements that seem to be sometimes coming back. The facts are what count and the facts are that, in Astana, I saw the government sitting across the same table of the opposition. We saw them in this building and we have been having quite an intense discussion with both sides on subjects that both sides are interested in. So I don't find that, as a mediator, an insurmountable problem. I find it quite psychological until you will see perhaps them sitting together and even agreeing. Until then, all sides will continue posturing, positioning publicly that their line is absolutely untouchable. It is actually a negotiating technique.
Q: Do you mind if the Macron initiative takes over and if that becomes the forum for finding a political solution? How does it work in your view?
SdM: Imagine the following, imagine that, that type of initiative will be creating a contact group that would be made of countries that are actually involved in having an influence on what's happening in Syria. Imagine that we would have something like that happening while both the Syrian parties will be sitting in two separate rooms away, and that in fact the UN would be in a position therefore of doing what we're doing at the moment but with one difference, that you would have those countries who are actually very influential, being in a position also perhaps influencing directly during the talks. Should I be against that? That's exactly what the UN needs to have and wants to have.
Now, and if I can read to you also the statement by the French president, it says initially “we want to put in place a contact group in order to be more efficient in order to be able to support directly what is being done by the United Nations”. I feel very comfortable with that and I must say, you remember even when you raised the issues about Astana as if we are territorial about wanting to make sure that nothing else to be happening except in Geneva, and we were like - no, we were in favor, in fact Astana and what has been happening in Astana is increasing the chances for the Geneva political process to be more successful. Last by not least, even today at the Security Council, and France was there and of course everyone else, there was an insistence that the only place on the way to have a fruitful negotiation is through the UN process.
Q: Est ce que les Américains et les Russes vous informent de leurs décisions avant leurs décision de cessez-le-feu dans le sud, avant Hambourg ou Astana?
SdM: Nous sommes en contact avec tous les pays qui sont actifs dans le contexte et nous sommes assez au courant franchement de beaucoup de choses. Cela ne veut pas dire que je peux vous dire cela en avance mais maintenant que vous savez que je le sais en avance. Mais nous sommes très au courant et c’est la raison pour laquelle nous sommes en position de pouvoir soutenir Astana immédiatement dès qu’il y a une annonce.