27 June 2017

Note to Correspondents - Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Briefing to the Security Council [as delivered]

Mr. President [Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz of Bolivia], Dear colleagues, 

1.        Let me start by giving a summary of what is our own analysis based on the latest developments and on some of the possible future steps ahead. As usual in Syria we have a mixed picture and I have to refer to it. There have been some interesting technical steps in advance of the 7th round of intra-Syrian talks that will take place as you know very well by now on the period of the 10-14 July. There are currently serious efforts on the other hand underway to deliver further agreements and implementation agreements regarding the de-escalation zones before an Astana meeting which is planned on the 4-5 July. But there have also been worrying developments which we cannot ignore and we will elaborate a little bit on that. We are at a time of testing whether the political will exists for real de-escalation and more meaningful political talks and move beyond preparatory talks. 

2.        Throughout this period, Mr. President, dear representatives of the Security Council, the UN has been quite active, convening joint technical meetings with opposition experts, seeking to support the efforts of the Astana guarantors on de-escalation, consulting widely including in Moscow and Paris and with many others, and laying the basis for a new round of the Geneva talks - and also having consultations with our colleagues in the European Union. Let me map this out for you and look to where we can go next. 

Mr. President, 

3.        In the last round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, I did announce the establishment of a technical consultative process - you remember, that was an additional layer that we believe can be very helpful in actually abolishing layers by accelerating the real talks. This technical consultative process was meant to develop relevant options on constitutional and legal issues that would need to be considered anyway and resolved anyway in relation to any proposals and positions put forward in formal sessions. This was designed in fact to help the formal talks to progress more expeditiously, and be better prepared by ensuring that any negotiated transitional political process would enjoy solid technical constitutional and legal foundations. Let me give you one example, some times ago as you will remember, we had a moment of truth in Afghanistan, many years ago, I was around and some of you were. And there was a feeling that nothing was moving forward until at a certain point there was a rush for conference in Bonn. Much of the work had been already prepared. Preparatory work which appears sometimes to be tedious, sometimes not conclusive, was immediately put in action and utilized as homework preparing for the Bonn conference. Well we are in a certain way doing something similar, waiting for the major Geneva conference, God willing. 

4.        We made it clear that the consultative process created was technical - as you know everything we do is political but the particular emphasis in this case were technical -, expert and non-binding in nature. It was not designed, and it is not designed to act as a negotiating forum, to take on the political responsibilities of the formal sessions, or to take on itself the Syrian people’s right to determine the constitutional future of the state of Syria. But it is a serious process because it does prepare for this. 

5.        You will recall that both the Government and the three opposition invitees to the intra-Syrian talks – those mentioned in 2254 – all agreed, last time, to participate in separate consultations under this consultative process, and indeed we were able to do so separately in the last round for - at least two days. 

6.        Since then, there has been a potentially significant new development. On 15 and 16 June, two days ago, opposition experts from the High Negotiations Committee and the Cairo and Moscow platforms convened jointly, together, in the same room, in Geneva at the invitation of the UN within the framework of the consultative process. This was the first time a joint set of UN meetings with the opposition invitees in one room has taken place, and not only for protocol reasons, but substantively discussing during the whole day among them and with us - and we believe we must build on this. 

7.        The opposition experts worked to develop joint technical options regarding the schedule and process for drafting a new constitution and its popular approval. They also discussed the principles involved, covering the substance of the so-called living 12 points that we did put forward in round 4. The experts also discussed these issues in the context of a negotiated political transition process within the framework of relevant resolutions of the Security Council. 

8.        While such expert meetings are by nature exploratory and non-binding, the joint meeting brought to light welcome similarities and common technical and perhaps even political understanding of various issues, and could potentially be the beginning of greater technical coordination among these three groups and we hope you will be helping us in supporting these three groups to do so in order to show unity. 

9.        The participants felt that more work could be even more productive, and my office has, therefore, accordingly invited them to participate next week in a further set of joint meetings in the framework of the consultative process on constitutional and legal issues, ahead of the seventh round of formal intra-Syrian talks, taking place as you know in July. 

10.        You will recall that the Government of Syria which was by the way the first to commit to the technical process, communicated to me that it would participate in expert meetings in the framework of technical consultation process during formal sessions of the intra-Syrian talks -- but not outside those formal occasions. I therefore look forward to experts from my team continuing during the 7th round the engagement that began with experts from the Government during the 6th round. 

11. Naturally, the UN remains ready to engage with the Government experts at any mutually convenient time, including before and after formal talks. 

Mr. President, 

12.        In my formal invitations to the forthcoming round of the intra-Syrian talks, I encouraged the invitees to prepare actively. I look forward therefore, to them engaging in an intensified set of discussions on issues across all four baskets – governance issues, constitutional issues, electoral issues, counter-terrorism, security governance and medium term confidence-building issues. I hope it will be possible to accelerate the peace talks. I am giving consideration to sharing some of my own thinking on certain issues in order to stimulate the parties. 

13.        If the environment is propitious, I am also ready to seek to facilitate direct talks between the Government and the opposition, hopefully unified opposition, in those talks, either at the formal or technical level. This is something that all sides have stated more than ones they want, and I hope conditions are being created that could enable this. 

14.        I also believe it would be important to aim for a further round towards end August or early September, in advance of the September General Assembly meeting. 

15.        Both during and between the upcoming rounds of formal talks and expert meetings, my team will continue to closely engage with the members of the Women’s Advisory Board of Syria and the Civil Society Support Room and listen to their suggestions and practical advice. In particular, my team and I continue to strive to engage with and hear the priorities of more women's organizations, including those working across Syria, inside Syria, during and between rounds of intra-Syria talks. 

16.        In this context, I should note that, following the last round round of intra-Syrian talks, we did activate our Civil Society Support Room, which allowed us to consult with more than 50 civil society organizations and experts from all walks of life and different expertise, from both within and outside Syria. 

17.        The more we engage with these interlocutors, the more we are convinced that civil society will be critical to preserving and indeed regenerating the social cohesion of a country that for too long has been torn apart by war. 

Mr. President, 

18.        As we advance the overall political effort unfolding under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva, efforts are continuing by the three guarantors to finalize modalities for the implementation of the Astana de-escalation memorandum concluded on 4 May. A meeting of the guarantors is planned for Astana to be in Astana on 4 and 5 July. I plan to be present at that meeting.   

19.        With every week that passes, we know it, without a final arrangement for the de-escalation zones being indeed finalized, the fragility of the ceasefire regime and the risk posed by the fragility increases. I am aware of the genuine efforts currently being undertaken to try and overcome the remaining obstacles, as was witnessed by my own team of experts from my own office during the recently held technical-level meeting of the joint working group on de-escalation in Moscow. 

20.        The UN team continues to stand ready to provide technical advice, whenever and wherever needed. Because we need a success in Astana, as Astana desperately needs a success in the Geneva political process in order to consolidate what we are all trying to do. Let’s give de-escalation efforts a fair chance to succeed because that is what people are asking in order to bringing the violence further down and enabling confidence-building. 

21.        I also express the hope that the discussions aimed at finding a suitable formula for addressing the difficult situation that has emerged in the south of Syria, will also yield positive results. 

Mr. President, 

22.        As we plan for Geneva intra-Syrian talks and as the Astana guarantors work for de-escalation, let us recall what has been achieved and some of the challenges that are still to be met on the ground. 

23.        Since the three guarantor states signed the de-escalation memorandum on 4 May in Astana, violence is clearly down. Hundreds of Syrian lives continue to be spared every week, and many towns have returned to some degree of normalcy.   

24.        That is a good general trend, but it is not the same good trend everywhere. In some areas, the fight and violence has been continuing and in fact intensified. 

25.        The overall significant improvement of the security situation on the other hand has not, and we have to recognize that, regrettably, yielded equally significant progress on humanitarian access to areas where the needs are the greatest. The support of the ISSG co-chairs and other ISSG members has been helpful, and efforts are continuing. However, let me be honest, much more needs to be done - and urgently - to enable safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all Syrians, wherever they are, particularly in the areas which have been difficult to reach. 

26.  Let me also stress the importance of moving forward on the issue of detainees, abductees, missing people and on the important issue of humanitarian demining. Let me express here my appreciation to UNMAS for its continuing engagement in this regard. 

Mr. President, 

27.  We note that the fight against terrorism appears to be proceeding with Daesh under pressure and in retreat in various locations in Syria. The same time incident between the international anti-ISIL coalition and forces of the Government of Syria and its allies, including the downing of a Syrian military plane, have taken place. 

28.  As I see it, the ideal trajectory over the coming two weeks would be: progress in Astana on 4-5 July; then a further set of joint technical expert meetings with the opposition groups in the same week; and then a continued discussion and dialogue hopefully among international stakeholders (including at the G20 Summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July), in which Syria can not be avoided as a subject. And all this in support of both the Astana de-escalation efforts and the intra-Syrian Geneva-based political process. I hope that a combination of these elements would help shape an environment conducive for the next round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva in the months to come, and bring us one step forward on the journey towards our shared goal of implementing the resolutions of this Council, in particular 2254. All the political efforts of the United Nations are directed towards this end, and we continue, with the guidance of the Secretary-General to count on the strong support of all of you and of the Security Council as a whole. Thank you.