Geneva, Switzerland

22 April 2016

Note to Correspondents: Transcript of press stakeout by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura

Good evening.  Monday I think I told you that today I was going to make a pause in the moment and come out from the meetings and come here and talk to you about what we have come up with, in terms of taking stock and what are the next steps of this round of negotiations, the Intra-Syrian Talks. 
So that is what I am planning to do, and focusing on that on my own explanation, and of course I will take questions.
Let me, if you allow me, remind you and remind myself about what are these Intra-Syrian talks, because we have to put it into perspective.  The Intra-Syrian talks that we have convened in view of the extremely polarized situation in terms of format, they are, as you know, proximity talks.  Now proximity talks means both in time and in location and we have been able, I think, on the first and second, we called the first round as you know that lasted very little, the second one is the one you were with us and this is the third round, proximity was not only in time and location but also showed a lot of flexibility.  That is the method we are using. 
So, just to talk on flexibility on time, we started on the 13th and you remember why, we started on the very day of the elections but we did not wait for the outcome of the elections.
So we started on the 13th with the HNC, they came earlier and we had two days of discussions with them prior to the arrival of the government delegation which arrived on the 15th.  So we were able basically to take advantage of those two days to get more and more analysis and meetings with the HNC.  Now let’s remember the central point for us is to get, as many as possible, ideas, concepts, any type of possible vision of what could be either the Transitional Governing Body or, what the government seems to be referring to, the government of broad-base.
The secret for us and the usefulness of these proximity talks is to get the respective visions of what is their view of the political transition and that is what we have been working on, and we are working on.
And you must have noted, anyway if you didn’t I will like you to note, the big difference from the past.  This time it is both sides, both sides, are actually talking only about one subject: political transition, nothing else, there is no questions that we are talking about going back, we are going to political transition.
So we have to be aware that after five years of war, conflict, and horrible conflict, we must also be using some patience when we are looking together at the roadmap, at the timeline and be linking what is the different visions with what is considered a very important roadmap for us, resolution 2254 in the light of the Geneva Communiqué.
As you remember therefore now we get to the point, this is the background to put it into perspective.  As you remember since Monday, we indicated that the HNC, and the HNC indicated itself, was going to show their displeasure, unhappiness about the non-progress on the humanitarian situation, and the worrisome situation of the cessation of hostilities, by postponing, suspending their official participation, formal participation to the talks.  That was the situation on Monday, as you remember.
Well, but luckily there is also a strong feeling of urgency in not dropping what is the mother of all issues: political transition, and getting deeper in this.  And therefore since Monday, we have been having formal meetings with the government, and been able to consult and meet representatives of the Moscow, Cairo, Damascus platforms, the Women Advisory Board, Civil Society and indeed at the technical level, we had very deep meetings with the HNC representatives in their hotel, but as I told you, we are flexible.
Yes, with HNC representatives we have been able during the last few days, perhaps to go even deeper than we ever had in understanding their vision and trying to explain how we can help in materializing that vision of the Transitional Governing Body.  They have been up till late at night and have been very very productive, at least for us.
With the government we have been trying to go deeper on their own vision /concept but getting more practically into deeper details about what they understand about a broad-base government, what do you mean by that? Is it going to be cosmetic? Is it going to be real? And if it is real, what does it mean for the opposition, and so on.  We are not yet got there and we hope that Monday we can go deeper on that aspect, because that is what we need to understand.
Now we must not forget all this, what we are trying to do in terms of vision, and getting deeper into political transition can and needs to be helped by facts of the ground.  And on the ground we have been witnessing worrisome trends, no doubt.  What happened today in Aleppo again is very worrisome.
According to all objective criteria comparing to the past, the cessation of hostilities is still in effect, I repeat, is still in effect.  None of the sides have renounced to it, delegitimized it, and it is still in effect.  But it is in great trouble if we do not act quickly.
We can definitely get back on track but it will require urgent efforts because of what we have been witnessing the last few days.
On the humanitarian side, we had an opportunity yesterday to talk about it, therefore I will summarize it again, modest improvement, real but modest, but not enough.
We did succeed today to reach Rastan which has about 25,000 people, but for instance, we are really looking forward to be able to follow-up on the “recce” (reconnaissance)  visit by Khawla Mattar, which went empty handed because she was doing a “recce” (reconnaissance), but the realities she did find out the needs of the people, now we need to be able to reach those people in Darayya.  That means also other places, such as Kefraya, Foah, Deir ez-Zor, we are very much concerned about those places where we heard that the people are not eating.
So bottom line, I plan to continue the proximity talks both at formal level and at technical level until next week, probably Wednesday as originally planned.
We need to try until Wednesday to get as deep as possible in the areas we have been starting discussing and we can do that both formally, informally, technically, practically but we need to do it.
And we will definitely keep you informed because by next Wednesday I think I will be in a position of having a wrap up and giving you a feeling of where we are and what did we do in terms of reaching an understanding during this third round.
So the message is: we continue, at all levels, both technical, practical, and political, in the hotel, or inside this building as long as we go deeper, for the sake of understanding how to move on political transition,  humanitarian aid and reducing the violence or not, putting in danger the ceasefire.
Thank you. 
Q: Mr. de Mistura, yesterday in an interview to Swiss TV you mentioned that the death toll in Syria has reached 400,000 people, could you please elaborate on that data, because before we had UN numbers 100,000. 
SdeM: It is true, I said it, it is my own, I would say, analysis based on the following concept.  We had 250,000 as a figure two years ago, well, two years ago was two years ago, if we want to make an estimate which is not very fine, I recognize it, but if you want to make an estimate about how many people disappeared, how many wounded people had died, how many secondary lives were lost, in other words, after an incident or after a conflict due to lack of medical support, I am afraid we will  not be far away, and I hope I am totally wrong about the 400,000 figure, I don’t have any proof of it, and I do not think that anyone can prove anymore that they are 250,000.  So that is my modest reply without being unfortunately capable of giving a mathematical certitude, but I am afraid it cannot be 250,000 anymore.
Q :  Could you also please clarify whether the government and the Syrian opposition had any direct talks, and also when we asked the UN why the government was blocking the humanitarian aid, the UN told as to ask this question to the Syrian government, and when we had the chance to ask this question, their response was there were no besieged areas by the government and that all areas were besieged by the terrorists and also the humanitarian aid was blocked by Turkey, what is your response to that?
SdeM: First of all I have no evidence of any direct talks having taking place.  It is obviously our aspiration; I imagine that this been taking place without me or being informed of it.  So I don’t have any evidence of any direct talks. That is the answer to your first point.  That is why proximity talks are still very much the best system until of course the moment when, we will be the first one to be happy, to see direct talks.
Regarding the second question, let me reply by facts.  The facts I believe, I work for the UN, is the UN official analysis on that, which is the humanitarian analysis done by OCHA and by those who are involved in humanitarian assistance. So, there are 18 besieged areas, the name besieged requires a special case in other words, not reachable, except through special convoys, special air drops or special type of mission.  Of those 18, 15, I repeat 15, according to our analysis, are besieged by the government, 2 are besieged by the armed opposition, one, Deir ez-Zor is besieged completely by ISIS (Daesh), that’s why we have to organize dangerous, complicated, expensive air drops.
Q: Yesterday you commented on the decision of HNC to suspend their participation in the proximity talks, you said that this is more of a “political gesticulation or positioning”, what exactly do you mean by that? And second question, other delegations participating in these talks are saying that you will continue even if the HNC is not in Geneva, can you continue without them?
SdeM: Well, let me see.  I have been in international diplomacy now for 45 years and 7 months; I agree it is too long according to some, so I have some experience in the field of diplomatic negotiations.  And there are political messages that are done and can be done through gestures, this is a pattern and what I meant was that the political message by HNC to actually protest, to show disappointment, great disappointment, about the humanitarian situation and also the fact that the cessation of hostilities was being very much in danger, was shown through a political gesture, that is a standard procedure, everyone does it, some do it better than others but it is a standard procedure, that is what I meant.
To the second point, as I told you I have decided to actually continue the Intra-Syrian talks until most likely Wednesday next week, as forecasted.  And those talks will continue with those who are around, but that means also technical talks with those who want to have technical discussion and those who want to have formal discussion here, we will have that as well.  The main purpose is getting and absorbing as many as possible ideas from anyone, we are not formal, we want an outcome, I want to be able to say on Wednesday, that I was able to make the best use on all the different concepts/ideas both on humanitarian aid and on the political process, political transition.
Q:  I was wondering if you can elaborate when do think the ISSG will meet at ministerial level, they are the ones sponsoring these talks and as you mentioned the cessation of hostilities in particular is in trouble and you need their support to go forward, we hear about certain areas, do you have anything more to tell us on that?
SdeM: The short answer is yes we do need certainly a new ISSG at the ministerial level because the level of danger of the table made of three legs and the table of three legs is always fragile, by definition, it is urgently required.  I will elaborate of the table, of course.
One leg as you know is the humanitarian assistance which should move forward,
The second leg is the cessation of hostilities (which) needs to be solidified, and the third leg which is in a way helped by the first two is the issue about political transition.
When one of them is in difficulty, we can make it, but when all three of them are finding difficulties, it is time to call the ISSG. 
Q: Mr. de Mistura, as a diplomat in service for 45 years, and 7 months, do you sense an honest urgency by the parties to try and achieve a historic agreement, which you obviously try to do, and because of that I think somebody has to go an extra mile, reach across the aisle, shake even maybe hands with the enemy, do you sense anything like that? Or is it like we have seen lots of posturing, which you have announced, and which will happen, is it more? Can you tell us more about that?
SdeM: Well, the answer to that or what I want to believe on my side is, Yes I do, because simply for two reasons: The first one is they have all agreed, and this was not an easy decision, that we are all talking about anything else but a political transition.  Second, there is a clear feeling, that’s why we need the ISSG, that neither of the two sides believes that they will ever have a military victory, and therefore it is time to talk.  For making this fueled with good energy, ISSG is the answer.

Q: The end of last round of negotiations you prepared a working paper which was a concrete homework for the delegations, are you preparing something of the kind and are you planning to give a homework to the negotiators?

SdeM: I will tell you Wednesday, thank you very much.