Astana, Kazakhstan

05 July 2017

Note to Correspondents: Transcript of the press conference by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

Good evening, we will be relatively short but I think we, as the UN need to make some comments about this meeting in Astana.

The first one, I think, on behalf of the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and of everyone present here, I want to reiterate how much we appreciate the generous and effective hospitality of the Kazakh government and of His Excellency the President - and by the way I take advantage since tomorrow is his birthday and the Astana Day to make our own best wishes.

I must say, we from the UN do appreciate the persistence, the determination the constant hard work of the Astana Guarantors and all the countries who are being involved in this effort of de-escalation of violence and the strengthening of the ceasefire in Syria. We have tried already three times you know with the ceasefire in Syria in the last period of the last three years, so we really want to give a chance to what is being done here and we believe that efforts have been producing progress. There has been progress during this last three days but we heard it from particularly Ambassador Lavrentiev, there is more time if needed and required.

We have some experience about this. In Geneva, we have seen more than once we are familiar with the fact that the complexity of a conflict like this require a lot of patience, strategic patience, determination and insisting in wanting to constantly make even small steps in the right direction. Astana is particularly meant for producing a ceasefire, what they call a de-escalation, and that is why we believe that Astana does deserve patience and support, and there is more energy and time required - and we are with them in trying to make sure this will happen. You have heard the next appointment would be in July, eventually in August, but it would be a lot of work that would need to be done. The efforts by everyone involved are continuing, must continue, and the UN will continue offering his own expertise and support to the guarantors in the pursuit of de-escalation in Syria because that is exactly what the Syrian people are requiring.

There are also confidence-building measures, you heard two of them - and they are very important for the Syrians and for all of us and they are both related to what is considered as a priority in Syria. One is the issue about humanitarian demining - and our own team of UNMAS has offered and is offering his own support for what we believe in here is almost an agreed paper; it needs to be translated into action. The other one is about detainees, abductees and people who disappeared during the conflict which is mentioned specifically in 2254. 

Now in conclusion, there are two tasks which we are all working on into different and complementary and mutually supportive action. One is Astana, which will continue and is continuing to make even sometimes small but very clear progress related to the situation of reducing the violence in Syria - but we all know, everybody agrees, the de-escalation by itself is an interim arrangement. What is needed in order to sustain is progress on the political side. That is why we are, and I confirmed today, starting again a new round of Geneva intra-Syrian talks on Monday the 10th of July, and we look forward to then use even the current progress in the Astana process in order to make sure that the atmosphere leading to some progress on the political side will take place during the next round.

Meanwhile there has been technical discussions and meetings taking place which are bringing some clarity, and I would say, also some form of unity among the opposition. We are obviously looking forward also, and we believe that would be a good occasion in Hamburg at the G 20 meeting the world leaders present, to also address what we believe is an important issue for the whole world - which is solving the conflict in Syria.

I will stop there. I can take questions if you have. Over to you.

Q: In Astana, we were waiting for an agreement and there was not. Is this going to affect the next round?

SdM: First of all I have to be, I mean frankly, if there is anyone who can say and explain to all of you and to myself how complicated it is any progress in a conflict which has been lasting now six years and which has produced terrible suffering and impacting the region, it is us, me if you want, today. Therefore, I think you should not be disappointed. We are not, we of course, we realized that there were more expectations on this Astana meeting but we also realize that every step in this discussion even in Astana, like we have in Geneva, are small steps but are important ones it would have been bad if we went back and we didn't have de-escalation zones. We do have them we did have, I was present, a signature of a document. What is required now is the implementation and as you know as usual, the devil is in the details. So let’s not downgrade what we have seen today which is some progress but I understand there was more expectations. Is this going to help or impact Geneva? Yes, and I believe that it would have not helped if you had made no progress or things would have gone backwards. You can imagine having a Geneva meeting in the middle of escalation instead of de-escalation. That would've not helped. I don't see that happening I hope and therefore I believe this meeting is, as we always thought, an opportunity of mutually supporting Geneva and Geneva supporting Astana because as I said, without a political process even de-escalation is not sustainable.

Q: (Inaudible).

SdM: The answer is a combination and I've been told by the Syrian people, Syrian average people, and even politicians, both from opposition and government, that, it’s true, that the solution of the conflict needs to be Syrian-led, Syrian-owned. But it is also true that they themselves say without an international agreement, a consensus by the many countries who have been and are involved in Syria that would not be possible. 

So both are needed, that's why discussions in Astana among the guarantors are crucial because they do have an influence, but that's why also the Geneva talks, which are intra-Syrian talks, are also crucial.

Q: (Inaudible).

SdM: First of all, I want to repeat I believe that what has been achieved in Astana is some progress so it's not been a disappointment. If anyone had more expectations they may consider that they would have liked to see more but there has been some progress and I think and Mr. Lavrentiev explained it quite well.

The proof is that the process in Astana continues and actually has got very clear deadlines for meetings, one in Tehran and then one eventually here in Astana. 

Second, I believe that what has been happening in Astana, not only today but the other times as well, is contributing to supporting Geneva because de-escalation is for us crucial. Not only for us, for the Syrian people. What do I expect in Geneva? I would prefer to remind myself what we have already said today about Astana, is perhaps we should avoid any over-expectation so that we can actually comment on the progress once it has taken place, it is always a good approach.

Q: (Inaudible).

SdM: I believe I understood what you're trying to say but let’s put it like this, you seem to be also - you are probably not far from my own age so you have a lot of experience yourself, you must have covered other conflicts I presume. The answer is yes? Yes.

If you have covered other conflicts as we have done - I’ve done it now I have worked in 19 conflicts and this is by far the most complicated one - you would agree with me that four rounds is not worrisome. There has been conflicts which have taken 10, 15 rounds of discussion and then suddenly, one day, you and I will discover that there are news, that the actual solution is in the progress. That’s what I have experienced that’s why I would not count how many rounds and then based on that saying after four rounds or five rounds we should be disappointed or pessimistic.

Secondly, I must say that the four baskets that have been identified and have been agreed upon by all sides in the intra-Syria talks are quite comprehensive, and the fact that one of them in particular, the one related to the constitutional process, which is an important thing because with a constitution you can actually have a major impact about what could be the future of Syria, now let's try to be proactively patient. I do see movement. Think about what it was a year ago or two years ago when we were having much worse situation. At least now there is an engagement and a real engagement. The proof is what you're seeing today look at this round table. Thank you.