Transcript of Press Conference by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura Conclusion of the 6th round of Intra-Syrian talks, 19 May 2017
SdM: Let me read to you some comments and then of course I will take some questions, so don’t be intimidated by the formality of my comments.
Today we concluded a sixth round of the intra-Syrian talks. You must have seen and you have seen, it was a short round and this was intentional. We wanted a focused, concentrated round to actually deepen the process further and I think we have done that. As we seek to facilitate a political process as per Resolution 2254, during the round number five, the previous one, we discussed in parallel all four baskets of the agenda. Well this agenda remains and is the agenda of the talks.
However, for quite a while actually, we have noticed from all concerned, in one form or the other, about the fact that they felt there was a genuine need to ensure a stronger legal and constitutional foundation for any negotiated political transition process, and at all stages of such a process, so we got the message. Therefore, I took this time the decision to establish a process of expert meetings and to invite the parties to participate. Then, in order to stimulate them, I did indicate to the parties that I was going to share with them, which I did, an internal UN paper. The purpose was never to negotiate the paper, which was supposed not to become an object of negotiation for the Treaty of Versailles. It was basically an internal paper to give them an indication in what direction our vision could have been.
In fact rather than spend a lot of time, although we did spend some time negotiating or discussing the internal paper, which we had proposed, we actually moved beyond that and quite effectively beyond the paper, simply focused on what we wanted to have, what I decided, as I told you to have. And we simply started a process of separate experts meetings on legal and constitutional issues chaired by the OSE, the UN experts.
I am pleased that this process has indeed began. It began yesterday, we had only four days so we had to start after some preparation, and it began yesterday and continued indeed today and I look forward to push this additional element forward and enriching through that the UN facilitated intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. These expert meetings obviously, it is clear, do not aim and do not replace the main negotiating track. The intra-Syrian talks are focused on all four baskets and they are meant to assist, this process is meant to assist, the formal sessions to enable discussions at the political level to proceed more smoothly. Expert meetings can help identify complex issues, identify options and so on. We are not planning or aiming through this to draft a new constitution. We are not planning or aiming through this to draft a new constitution for Syria. This has to be done by the Syrians.
We are rather trying and we intend to pursue trying to lay the ground for the Syrians, to do exactly that in the context of an overall political solution which in terms is in the context, as you know, of Resolution 2254. So, because this was a short round and because it took us some days to ensure that everyone had reach a sufficient level of comfort to add this new important element to our work, we did not have the physical time for in-depth discussions in the formal discussions, in the formal sessions, to cover all four baskets and address the four baskets. But we did discuss several substantive issues of key concern to the parties and we intend to move ahead on all four baskets during the coming rounds while the new process of having expert meetings will also continue as I described.
Let me also note that the real efforts, and I have to admit there were real efforts, were made in this round to have experts from the Cairo and the Moscow platforms to attend the UN hosted expert meetings, which I just referred to you, with the main opposition delegation announced on the 11th of February. This was not yet possible, they are still been discussing and negotiating about it but we will continue to push for this effort since this would send, in our opinion, a positive signal that the opposition groups, at least at the level of the technical discussions, are willing and capable to work together.
We therefore urge the opposition sides to continue their efforts in this regard and our hope is, that in fact through this, there could be an additional element of unification of the opposition when we talk about very technical but important issues. I would also like to thank once again, and let me say it because I believe strongly in it, the Women's Advisory Board for providing timely and incisive contributions, even to this round, in fact very much to this round, which helped shape our own thinking and how to approach the talks.
We facilitated exchanges of views between them and the members of the ISSG in the margins of the talks and I would also like to indicate that next week, not here in Geneva but nearby, the Office of the Special Envoy will be promoting and pushing and working together with the civil society, within the context of the civil society support room, I'm sure you're familiar with that.
I would also like to thank the regional and international stakeholders who have been here, and have been actively involved and I'm going to see them very soon, for the close involvement in this round of talks, which certainly facilitated our work and that of the Syrian parties. Last night I went to Mont Pèlerin to brief the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres in detail on the talks, and he, you should know, continues to follow them very closely. For him Syria is a priority, and to appeal to all Syrians to support this very difficult but important process of intra-Syrian talks.
As you may also know, I had also today a constructive and timely trilateral meeting with senior representatives of the United States and Russia early this afternoon. We discussed the talks and beyond. I plan to brief the Security Council early next week as a customary and as a customary and as my duty I will be consulting with the Secretary General on dates for the next round of talks. Together with my team we also feel that it might be very useful to have an internal review of where we stand because things are moving but we want them to move even more deeply and more intensely and incrementally. We also feel the need to do an internal review so we can stand and actually better approach the next round as effectively as we can.
Based on all this, I would be letting the invitees know what preparatory steps can be taken before the next round of talks which will happen as soon as we have, in a position of doing so, and frankly and the expert process and I think sometime in June, but I will not commit a date at this stage due to many elements that are taking place. We will let you know. Let me add one last point which is something we are noticing and I hope the participants are noticing, although sometimes they feel differently, this round of talks there is less rhetoric, more business-like atmosphere and we make incremental progress. Our goal remains clear, a negotiated framework agreement and a negotiated political transition process as per [resolution] 2254. One step at a time, thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Special Envoy thank you, how do you comment on Mr. al-Jaafari saying today that any of the four baskets has not been discussed during this round, where as you and Mr. Ramzy were saying that you will try to accelerate at least one or two of the four baskets, and you will try to move in parallel. My second question, is about the Russians, do think that since the process of Astana, they are helping or they are standing in the way of these talks? Thank you.
SdM: Well, first of all let me say that I think I indicated it when I was reading, that we have been focusing this time, in particular, on one incremental progress, or if you want process. And therefore, four days, four days is not a lot of time in order to make everyone feeling comfortable with novelties, and this is a novelty. So we agreed with every side that in fact in view of this, we did not have the time to go deeply into all four baskets, and that we intend to do so at the next round, but what we did is deliverable, and therefore no one disagreed that we didn't have more time to do so.
Regarding the Russian Federation, I must say that as far as this round has been concerned and perhaps I can say for all the rounds, but since you asked me for this round, the Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov, was extremely supportive to what we have been trying to do, and it is not a secret that, I think, he must have had meetings with the government delegation in particular, but also with others, in order to ensure that this round would be productive. I believe that there is an interest in the guarantors of the Astana initiatives, that there should also be a progress in Geneva. One, because the Astana initiative is still fragile, let’s be frank, and we don't want it to be fragile, we want the de-escalation to take place and be effective. And therefore, if it is fragile and is still moving in the right direction but needs to be consolidated, any movement on the political process will be, in a way, mutually supportive and frankly for us too, if we have talks in the middle of massive barrel bombings and any other types of major battles, that is not helping the political process, so the two things are generally, mutually supportive.
Q: It seems that the two main parties did not value the interests of the format that you launched, as you did several times here, how would you interpret that, and is it for you a move aside or a move forward, or a move backward? Because they tend not to understand the format as you do.
SdM: You must have been covering other political international negotiations and debates; you know very well that there is always the possibility, especially by one side or the other, to actually want to give a little bit of a different interpretation. I base myself on facts, and the fact is we have a process, and the fact is we had already four meetings of this process, that is what matters, then of course we all have the right and I will never oppose the possibility of qualifying or commenting on what is your understanding and your hopes about it. The fact is we have it. Thank you.
Q: I am a journalist living inside Syria, so what we feel inside is different from what you feel here in Switzerland or the rest of the opposition outside Syria. Therefore the time that passes would cost us blood and losses in lives. In parallel with these negotiations, there was a US aggression on the Syria army, which was fighting ISIL, the US and European siege (sanctions) continues. I asked a year ago about the fate of this siege, and when they are going to lift this siege and the forced measures on the Syria people, and you promised to discuss this issue with them, what happened in regards to this subject. A while ago, you said that you spoke with high level US officials; did you discuss their crime of their aggression on the Syrian army?
SdM: I'm not going to comment on how you qualify the events which have been taking place, what I would like to say is that we did discuss with everyone in the present whatever the military events have been affecting people in Syria, but you see I would really like not to comment on it. Every day, every day and you are the one who can testify it, you actually rightly said so. Every day in the last four years, there is something related to the people of Syria, in Syria, which is connected to a military activity, so if I had to comment on each one of them, I would not be able to.
Secondly, I am not going to comment on it at this moment for two reasons, I would like to focus, if possible, at least on this press conference on the talks and actually on what we have been discussing at the talks. Three, I don't have enough elements at this stage to make any comment anyway, but thank you.
Q: Mr. de Mistura mentioned that the experts committee which is going to start its work with the opposition and the government in the presence of UN experts who are going to head the cession. He mentioned that we do not aim at drafting a new constitution for Syria, but Syrians are the one to draft the constitution, and we would pave the way for Syrians to find a political solution, the question is, what will be the role of the experts, whether it is the formulation of specific constitutional provisions or general lines of the Syrian constitution, and are there specific ideas in which foreign experts from the UN are involved?
SdM: You are quite correct in quoting what I just said; it is exactly what is the intention of our decision to establish this group of experts. I think we should leave it also to them to establish the best way we can proceed. We are meeting separately, we are not yet in a combined environment yet, even this is proximity, remember, but every meeting it is chaired by us, by our experts, and it is on the basis of our own meeting with each of the different group of experts, to then establish how to proceed further in the preparation. We are not going to draft the new constitution, it is very clear, but this can help a lot, believe me.
Q: We started this process a couple years ago with sort of a timeline of months, in which we are going to have elections and constitutional development, and that seems to be junked, and we also had questions about sieges and trying to get detainees deals and ceasefires, and these things are rumbling and rumbling with no apparent progress and this latest round, it sort gives the impression of now getting mind in a kind of subcommittee and small print, rather than making a great leap forward towards actually some sort of real progress and real conclusions. So can you give us any reassurance about things moving ahead and a timeline for example, how we really junked this timeline, could you give a time when we can actually see a conclusion?
SdM: History is not written by, I learned it long time ago, sadly, especially in a conflict environment, written by timelines that we setup artificially, they could be a target, a dream, a wish, a day for us to try to aim at, even conferences we decide on a certain day for a conference and then events, fighting or explosions will then postpone it or cancel it, so I don't think we should be focusing on that. It is true we have, and we will have, and constantly use some type of timelines in order to be able to push ourselves and those who are participated to the meetings to actually see that there is an obligation to which they are committing themselves. But facts on the ground will, and can and unfortunately will probably still change whatever plans we have. Meanwhile we have to continue working, preparing for what, for the moment when the actual environment will be ready for the real discussion about how we get a political solution. Example, you know that we had in the memorandum in Astana, there is one or two dates which have been mentioned, they have been doing it based on experience, that you have to have some timing on which you will then aim, but it does not mean that on that very date there would be an outcome, we are in the most intractable, so far, conflict of recent history.
But we're not going be passive and even small incremental moves, you will see when the solution will be arriving, you will be, I hope with us saying, well it is good that you had that expert new mechanism, because by the time we would be already to actually discussing constitution, all that would have been already put aside or prepared, that is, plus, any momentum provides some type of hope that we are not just waiting for the golden day, but we actually working for it.
Q: When would you be able to find a unified delegation representing the opposition, which is your main task in accordance to resolution 2254?
SdM: I am not sure that my main task is to unify the opposition. What is my task is to invite all the parts which are mentioned there, and they are clearly mentioned by name you know, and to ensure that they come and they participate.
Now the Government has been constantly complaining that they are not dealing with a unified opposition at the same time sometimes they are also telling me why you're not inviting these, why you're not inviting them, which slightly contradict the original wish of having a unified [opposition]. So, what I can do and I have been doing and even using this new process to try to stimulate it, is to actually push for a reasonable understanding of an umbrella in which the three components, according to [Resolution] 2254 could have at least some type of common line.
I think it is possible and I think they are talking and I think we may be getting there. This time, there were serious discussions in the hotels and here. Not yet but it takes some time perhaps.
Q: Mr. de Mistura, you talked about the committees, that they would continue during meetings of the upcoming rounds, does that mean stopping discussion on the other four baskets, until the end talking about this subject, or would the work continue in parallel with the other baskets?
SdM: Thank you for asking this question because obviously I didn't clarify that. No no, the four baskets and the official discussions will, and have to continue but we do have now a new process which can and should take place while the talks take place and perhaps even between them, so that we actually go much more business-like, especially on a subject that we believe covers every other subject which is the constitutional ideas and issues, but thank you for asking me this because obviously I was not clear. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we move forward, Thank you.