Transcript of press conference by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, 10 July 2017
Geneva, July 10, 2017
SdM: Thank you for being here, since you are so many I will provide time for questions, it is only fair that this takes place. I will be making a little longer remarks than I am used to do because I would like to, and you deserve it, to put what we are trying to do, what is happening in the context - the geopolitical context, the regional context and the so-called Astana-Geneva but also other things happening. So all this is connected and connectable, and I think it is only fair we put it into context, so thank you.
So first of all, the facts, today we started this new round of talks. I will then elaborate what we plan or could achieve out of it, but first let's put things into context, because it is not only a general operational context, but it is a political historic context at this moment. So we are not working in a vacuum, okay, so when you look at Geneva, say what is happening in Geneva is part of the overall approach. So let me explain why we are not working in a vacuum, because what we are doing is aimed at contributing and preparing the follow-up to various initiatives, developments on the ground and the broader political arena, which is constantly changing these days.
Astana - just to mention one place where I was, and then we put in context with Hamburg and what are you doing elsewhere in the field: Astana, yes we were there. There was a lot of good work, I know many of you have been saying that the objective that was aimed at, to have the announcement of a mechanism of monitoring in the clear delineation of the three de-escalation areas was not achieved. But I can tell you nevertheless that I know, because it was there, there was a lot of ground work being done. There were ground work and homework, it is not irrelevant at this moment because there is a lot of that happening including here, and it was in the right direction.
There was one area in particular which was complicated, Idlib, as you know, they are still discussing that. I think the visit of US Secretary of State Tillerson in Turkey these days has been also, in a way, looking at that as well because it is an issue that needs to be solved. But there was a lot of groundwork and could have been almost announced if we have gone through that one.
In Hamburg, well you know better than anyone, there was a lot of high level meetings which took place and many of them took place with some reference to the Syrian crisis, and those included also the well-known announcement by the presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States of America about an agreement regarding both Russian Federation, USA and Jordan on the de-escalation in an area in the southwest, which you are probably familiar with.
Now this took place officially de facto at 12 o'clock as you know and as the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said and I confirm, we consider it a significant development and a step forward into the de-escalation of an area which - and here is my comment - was becoming increasingly a potentially dangerous flashpoint.
The agreement which has started, as you know is, basically, broadly, holding quite well. I know, in all these agreements, there is a period of adjustment, we are watching that very carefully, there have been incidents at the very beginning, there have been some sporadic incidents, but we can still say and we believe that it has fairly good chances of working out. The devil is in the detail, there are some issues which may be complicating it, but we believe it has a very strong chance of being implemented.
The agreement was done after a long preparation, I'm aware of the details of it, long and very intense preparation done and actually is currently still taking place on the details in discussions in Amman, which can then produce this operational center which in a way will be monitoring that part.
So let's again go back to the context, okay, we spoke about Astana, we spoke about Hamburg and we have been saying that there are lots of things happening on the ground and in the political environment. So things are evolving quite rapidly in this context, not only on the ground, you can see it and on the political, regional and geopolitical environment. We all perhaps - and this is a personal consideration, but I think that I can be allowed to actually make some personal analysis - I think perhaps we are witnessing a phase of simplifying the most complex conflict of our time.
It has become, as you know, the most complex conflict, because over the years several layers have been actually placed, or been placing themselves over what started in a relatively simple, but very tense way, and then became one layer after the other. That has included agendas, have been adding new players and various complicating factors.
So let's see in what direction this simplification may take place, and in what direction this potentially could be proceeding. Basically by de-constructing the layers and identify clear priorities and possible common grounds. Look at what is being said and what have been discussed these days, it is perhaps in that direction. So let's imagine what could be this simplification, which may help in addressing what is being the most complex conflict.
First one, apart from the common understanding of everyone, that no way that chemical weapons should be allowed and should be able to be used in Syria. It is Daesh, and other terrorist organizations - Brussels, Saint Petersburg, Paris, London, Sinai, Istanbul, Tunis, Stockholm, Sydney, Ottawa, Berlin, Iraqi cities, Syrian cities and a reminder of many other places are all a reminder that the global community, the leaders who were attending Hamburg and the leaders who are actually talking to each other are clearly focusing on this as a major priority, can we blame them?
Now what just happened in Mosul, yesterday and may happen soon in Raqqa, is a demonstration of these renewed common priority. The second, almost parallel priority is de-escalation. De-escalation is what the Syrian people have been asking, begging everyone, including the UN, for a long time. Hence our own support for the Astana process, which is mutually reinforcing the Geneva one, and what has been the three areas which are being identified as de-escalation area and of course our support to the southwest agreement announced in Hamburg.
This de-escalation process needs, however, to be considered as interim. Let me underline the word interim, and with a clear understanding that is not going to undermine ultimately the Syrian national unity, territorial integrity. Otherwise this means partition, and I know this is something that no one, at least people we talk with, would like to see. It also means progress on the humanitarian access - that is the de-escalation - detainees, abductees and missing people and progress on the issue of humanitarian demining.
So the third point is the stabilization phase, which could start, and in fact, should be starting more or less dovetailing with the de-escalation phase. This could become very much a priority anyway just after the liberation of Raqqa. That could mean, in fact, much more energy in the search by all those who have been simplifying or believing in this simplified new approach, for a genuine, credible, inclusive, political process guided by resolution 2254, within the possible implementation of a pragmatic, realistic approach negotiated among the Syrians and assisted by the international community. This could take the form, within 2254, of a practical combination of institutional engineering which will, within 2254, involve Government, Opposition and give a voice to local emerging leaderships, which are there, exist there and we are hearing them. Then of course that's our main mantra, and we will never give up on it, the role of women and the important role of civil society.
This is the political geopolitical current context in which these talks are planning, like Astana, to contribute to, not to make the revolutionary change.
So back to where we are on the current talks, we are not expecting therefore breakthroughs, because we are part of all this, and we want to be supporting all this.
But some incremental developments, yes, as we have seen for Astana and we're doing a lot of homework and we plan to do it during these days, so they can be used at the right time and it could be much earlier than we may be thinking when in fact the regional political and global scenarios will allow this to actually become the Geneva Conference.
Meanwhile today, we had preliminary meetings with the Government delegation led by Ambassador Jaafari, with a special, very special, meeting with the P5 representatives of the Security Council here in Geneva, where we explained basically the scenario, and what could be our own aim and we received, and I must say, and I felt comforted, strong and unified support to the Geneva approach into our own intentions.
Then we had already a working lunch following two quite constructive technical rounds, in which the oppositions were all together with our own team. And today at the working lunch, we had all three opposition representative leaders and myself and my colleagues, discussing how to proceed in a way that hopefully we could see more and more progress on an opposition’s common position regarding important issues - for instance the 12 principal points. At a certain point whatever will happen, we will be having a need for having done at least that type of homework and perhaps any other commonality that may be taking place among the oppositions and perhaps even with the Government on issues in which they can work together or at least agree upon.
So the mantra today is we are part of a support operation, lot is happening, there are a lot of moving parts. If the focus is on simplification, well, we should be helping that and we should be helping with incremental preparation for the right time. I will tell you much more of course at the end of this round of talks on Friday, God willing. Thank you.
Q: Sir, you just told us that, in the case of de-escalation process it has to be considered as interim, what do you mean by interim? And regarding resolution 2254, do you plan to have specific meetings focused on the Constitution and the fact that eventually President Assad would leave power?
SdM: Let me first address the word interim, of course life is full of interim arrangements and some people say that you know interim is a dangerous word because it could prolong itself for very much. But it is important to make that word, because interim means that these de-escalation areas, which are likely to take place elsewhere and that’s of course our wish too, and the practical arrangements which are going to lead to military observation presence by various countries, should not become the preparation by default of what is, or could become de facto areas of influence or permanent type of partition of the country. Because I think everyone agrees that that is not going to have to happen - and certainly the UN is supporting, based on 2254 - but on principles that are well known and we did apply both in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sovereignty and national integrity of Syria need to be protected. That means that during a period, in order to calm down the water, there is a need of interim arrangements, that’s the main point.
Now regarding our meetings, yes we are going to cover or try to cover, because four days are not many, some preparatory work both at the technical and at the official level, both with the oppositions and with the Government on all four baskets, which I saw you mentioned only one, because it is an important one, I agree, constitutional one, but is not the only one.
Q: Since you have mentioned the Syrian cease-fire, which seems to be holding, what impact this will have to create a suitable atmosphere during these talks and what about the main sticking point, which is the transitional period and the role to be played by President Assad during this transition?
SdM: I would only address the first part, because the rest as you could see, there are different phrases which could be compressed, it could be faster, it could be slower, but they need first to be seen in the context of reality. So the reality is telling us that there is now a de-escalation area agreed upon by three countries, which was announced and we believe that that de-escalation is like any other de-escalation area, that we hope will take complete effect, will be contributing to, not only the talks in Geneva and in Astana of course, but will also contribute to reassure to Syrian people that while we are talking, and it may take longer as you know the negotiations, the people are not going to die because of bombs or any type of massive military activity.
Q: You are an optimist and if you look at the big picture would you say that we are now seeing the end of this war?
SdM: You are as usual asking a very difficult question, because you prefaced it by the fact that I am an optimist, otherwise I would not have been able to continue working on the UN missions in war conflict for 47 years now. So you have to read it through that light. Therefore, I have to be very careful. We have been together disappointed many times during these last four years and Syrians have been disappointed during the last six years. What I can tell you is that we are seeing several stars coinciding in a way, in a certain direction, both on the ground, regionally and internationally, we all knew it, there is a higher potential than we have seen in the past for progress, I will stop there. The next step is to see how the de-escalation works, how the phase one, the one we just mention and how that becomes conducive to phase three. By the way all those phases that I've been just analyzing myself, can be quite compressed, like in history, sometimes things happen very fast, sometimes very slow.
Q: Mr l’Envoyé spécial, la semaine dernière nous sommes parvenus à un cessez-le-feu dans le sud de la Syrie. Selon vous quelles seront les influences de ce cessez-le-feu sur les négociations en cours ? Puis, pour ce cycle de négociations, y a-t-il des objectifs concrets à court terme à atteindre?
SdM: Je vous réponds en français évidemment étant donné que vous avez eu l’amabilité de me parler en français. Je pense avoir presque répondu à votre première question en disant que cet accord annoncé à Hambourg par le Président Poutine, le Président Trump et en connexion avec un accord avec la Jordanie, a de fortes possibilités de devenir une vraie réalité sur le terrain. Les premières indications sont dans la direction juste. Si, comme nous l'espérons, il devient vraiment concret, il va:
1- Aider à réduire la tension dans une zone qui commençait à être très tendue.
2- Donner l’exemple aux autres 3 zones de désescalade dont nous avons discuté à Astana et qu’il faudrait se dépêcher de trouver une formule là-dessus.
A ce point-là, tout cela va aider, et a déjà aidé les discussions à Genève et les prochaines discussions à Astana. Pour le reste, concrètement, je voudrais vous en parler à la fin de la semaine, parce que à ce point-là j’aurai une idée d'où nous en sommes avec les oppositions et le Gouvernement sur ce que j'appellerais le travail de préparation pour le moment ou tout ça sera très utile.
Q: Mr de Mistura, you spoke about your meeting with the three oppositions. Do you intend to have one platform, knowing very well that if they do not agree among themselves, there will not be any progress especially in the context of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Do you think that this conflict will have an effect on the three platforms? Thank you.
SdM: First, I have been quite impressed and I must say I could verify that today over lunch. It was not just a courtesy lunch, it was a working lunch. It lasted more than an hour and the three components of the oppositions were all there. The oppositions listed by 2254. I was quite impressed about how much progress on areas in which are the main priorities, finding some type of common lines about Syria and the Syrians, were being reached. History is helped by events but the reality is that.
Now I can't tell you where they would be by the end of the week but I certainly count on them to develop even further, with our help of course, these common positions by the oppositions. I don't want to play with words but that's exactly the wording. Now, the tensions in the golf certainly are concerning and we always, and the Secretary-General has been open about it, hope that those tensions will be finding a proper solution because they do obviously not help the progress of the fighting in Syria, or stop the fighting in Syria. Anything which adds tensions complicate it, but we hope, we wish, and this goes beyond my brief of course.
Q: I would like to know, since the ceasefire was announced, if the Assad Government gave a concrete sign with respect to the access of humanitarian aid, to the Government’s besieged areas, thank you.
SdM: The ceasefire agreement took place a few hours ago. Normally, there is a teething problem with all ceasefires - all those I have been involved in and I've been witnessing so even more, in a complicated, very special area like that one. So we should first give it a very fair chance for these discussions in Amman now taking place while you're talking, regarding the detailed aspect of the operations center. How to make sure that incidents will be under control and then, that is the moment once there is a full ceasefire there, there is no reason that we should not be able to, then, obtain humanitarian access. That area has not been particularly affected by a lack of humanitarian access, although others have been much more, but we will definitely insist on that.
Q: You said that the leaders of the world in Hamburg have one priority, which is to fight ISIS. You, as the Special Envoy for Syria, don’t you feel that the foreign militias that were put in Syria by Assad constitute a greater threat to the Syrian people?
On the other hand, do you feel that those who have killed the Syrian people with chemical weapons will be bound by the agreement reached?
SdM: I feel that, when two superpowers, Russian Federation which is an ally of President Assad, and the United States of America agree fundamentally at that level in trying to make that ceasefire work, there is a strong chance that that will take place.
Secondly, I don't think anyone is in doubt about the fact that every country sitting in Hamburg by the way, from China to the United States and to India, are concerned about Daesh and Al Qaeda. Therefore, regardless about who has been doing or has done something in Syria, this is clearly now a unifying priority. We also said, and this has been said in the past many times, that in order to fight Daesh, Raqqa needs to be liberated like Mosul. But to defeat Daesh, there is a need of a credible, inclusive, political process in Syria, otherwise we would have not learned from what happened in Iraq.
Q: If there is no incremental improvement by the end of the week, what kind of consequence could that have on the three phase that you mentioned? Do you see any parallel between the consequences it could have?
SdM: I don't want to, in all fairness, overstate the impact of what we are doing, on what is happening in the major movement of tectonic agreements taking place at the moment. So that would be a little bit overstating our role. What I do know is that any type of any words stated today at the P5 meeting, and I'm not revealing a secret because it is a public statement that was made in all the circumstances, any type of solution regarding political solution, which at the end of the day needs to wrap up whatever militarily or, in other form, de-escalation will take place, needs and can only be done through the Geneva process of United Nations.
Q: Just a technical question on the question of Constitution. On the table within the discussions, are they talking about the current Constitution that is already there with some reforms, or are they going to be talking about a new Constitution, or constitutional elements with regards to the transitional period?
SdM: First of all, your question, you could be part of our team actually, I could ask you to join it, because this is exactly the two or three angles on which we can approach and assist both the Syrian sides to actually discuss it. Both are looking at the current Constitution and changing it or updating it, or adjusting it to the reality, or a process that would lead to a new Constitution. But I can't tell you where that will end up because this is exactly part of their discussions, but both and perhaps even a mixture of the two could be one of the areas of discussion.