New York

14 February 2018

Note To Correspondents: Staffan de Mistura UN Special Envoy for Syria Briefing to the Security Council and Transcript of subsequent Press Encounter (as delivered)

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,  
1.      I have come to New York to convey in person, I could have done it by video as we have done many times, to the Security Council the Secretary-General’s grave concern at the escalation of violence in Syria – and to urge you to focus on de-escalating that violence and on the political path forward for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254.
2.      We have seen a string of dangerous and worrying escalations, including inside the de-escalation zones established by the Astana guarantors and outside them. There has been a gradual return to back-and-forth competition over territory in Idlib and in Hama. We have seen heavy and sustained airstrikes across the northwest and in besieged Eastern Ghouta including today. *Civilians have been killed and injured on a horrific scale - reports suggest more than 1,000 civilian casualties in the first week of February alone – and strikes have continued to hit hospitals, schools and markets. There have been several allegations of chlorine attacks, in Ghouta, in Idlib, and also now recently in Afrin. While we cannot independently verify these allegations but if confirmed, it is outrageous and should be having no impunity. At least 320,000 people have been displaced due to fighting in Idlib in just two months – an area that is already hosting over 1.2 million IDPs.  Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham - which is basically al Nusra - is active in Idlib. Meanwhile, we have reports of heavy mortar shelling falling even across residential Damascus, wounding and killing civilians and damaging infrastructure, embassies and even close to the hotel where the UN is.
3.      The conflict is also further spilling over Syria’s borders in more than one direction and there have been increased military intervention from multiple sources.  The last several weeks have seen a new cross-border conflict in Afrin with yet no clear end in sight. There are reports of exchanges of fire between Turkish and Syrian Government forces in Idlib, between the US-led Coalition and pro-Syrian Government forces in the Euphrates valley, with loss of life. We have seen a Russian aircraft shot down over northern Syria – with the loss of its own pilot. And now, over the last weekend, there have been Israeli reports of an Iranian drone entering Israeli airspace – those reports have been denied by Iran; Israeli jets striking targets inside Syria; an Israeli jet shot down by Syrian Government anti-aircraft fire; and what Israel calls large-scale strikes against the Syria Aerial Defence System and Iranian targets.
4.      In short, we see developments that raise questions as to the sustainability even of the Astana de-escalation arrangements, in which we have a lot of hope and we still continue having hope, and threaten wider regional stability. I have been now four years as the Special Envoy. This is as violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I have seen in my time of tenure so far. Therefore, I strongly reiterate the appeal of the Secretary-General to all concerned in Syria and the region and beyond to de-escalate immediately and unconditionally, and urge all stakeholders, including the Astana guarantors, to use their influence to help reduce violence. I also urge continued attention to maintaining the Amman de-escalation arrangements in place in the south.
Mr. President,
5.      Not only are Syrian civilians being killed and displaced in large numbers more than before - they are also being deprived of the humanitarian assistance they need.
6.      There has not been a single UN humanitarian convoy to any besieged area since the 28th of November - two and a half months. Last week, together with Senior Adviser Jan Egeland, I warned the Humanitarian Task Force of the International Syria Support Group in Geneva of a collective failure to enable effective humanitarian action. I urged at that time the two co-chairs -- the Russian Federation and the United States -- as well as other States, to promote urgent actions to ensure immediate and unfettered humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas in particular. A series of urgent consultations are actually underway in Geneva while we are talking – so far, however, without concrete results except one convoy. We urgently need genuine de-escalation to protect civilians, evacuate the sick and the wounded, particularly children, and allow humanitarian aid to reach the 390,000 people in besieged areas and those who are also in the hard-to-reach areas. We just learned a few minutes ago - actually before coming here - that 7,200 people in besieged Nashabyeh received a partial delivery today, this morning. This is fine but let’s think about it - that is less than two percent of the 390,000 people which have been and are still in the besieged areas. We need much more and much more sustained.
7.      We must also never forget, because that’s what people in Syria tell us, the need for concrete steps on the release of detainees and abductees, and for the disclosure at least of information regarding persons missing in Syria since March 2011. The UN will leave no stone unturned to press this issue, in accordance with resolution 2254. We also remind the Astana guarantors of their own commitment agreed last December to form a Working Group, and. we urge them to move ahead on this important issue when they meet next.  
Mr. President,
8.      What we are seeing in Syria today not only imperils de-escalation arrangements and regional stability - it also undermines the efforts for a political solution. Yet we will not be deterred from pursuing the Geneva process, which is the only, the only sustainable path towards a political solution, and which is mandated by yourselves, by this Council.
9.      You will recall that in December, when I briefed you, I laid out a number of parameters and observations regarding baskets 2 and 3 of the agenda of the political process, which mean the constitutional and electoral baskets. Then, on January 25 and 26, I convened a special round 9 meeting of the intra-Syrian Talks in Vienna focused specifically on the constitutional basket. After intensive consultations with the Syrian parties and key states, I made a statement regarding any constitutional committee to be formed and stressed that final agreement on the composition, mandate and terms or reference of a constitutional committee would need to be reached in Geneva.
10.  For its part, the Russian Federation, which had invited the Secretary-General also on behalf of Turkey and Iran to a Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi, affirmed that the outcome of Sochi would be brought to Geneva as a contribution to the UN-led intra-Syrian talks in accordance with resolution 2254. There were intensive consultations between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Secretary-General and myself regarding such an understanding. I also maintained, on that occasion in Vienna and beyond, close consultations with a number of other states at that time.
11.  Accordingly, the Secretary-General asked me to attend Sochi. The Congress took place over one day on 30 of January. I attended the opening address by Foreign Minister Lavrov, as did the senior representative of Turkey and Iran and others. Afterwards, all internationals left the gathering to enable the discussion to proceed among Syrians. Only Russian Presidential envoy Lavrentiev remained in the room as host to facilitate the debate – and he did so very effectively – alongside with senior Syrian figures and a presidium of Syrians. I was later officially informed by the hosts that the Final Statement had been adopted, and was made aware of its content - you can see it published on the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Arabic, Russian and English as Foreign Minister Lavrov publicly confirmed yesterday after his meeting in Moscow with the Belgian Foreign Minister.
12.  As Secretary-General has publicly noted, Final Statement embraced a vision of the future Syria for all Syrians – as reflected in the 12 living intra-Syrian essential principles that came out of the UN-led talks in Geneva in November last year. The Final Statement, which took place in Sochi, affirmed that a Constitutional Committee should be formed and stated that it should at the very least comprise of  Government, Opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks – which means those which are facilitated by the UN in Geneva -- Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women. The Final Statement noted that care should be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria’s ethnic and religious components. And it made clear that final agreement on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the Constitutional Committee is to be reached in Geneva, and appealed for the UN, in Geneva, assistance in that regard.
13.  Given this important Final Statement, I joined the closing of the Congress to welcome it and to affirm the UN’s intention to proceed speedily accordingly, so as to assist in finalizing all aspects of a constitutional committee, thereby enabling its establishment in Geneva. And I noted to the Congress publicly as I note to you that the mandate given by this Council to the UN in Geneva is indeed to set, in the context of resolution 2254, a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.
14.  We’ve been assured by the Russian Federation that it will endeavour to ensure that the Government of Syria fully supports the official outcome of the Sochi Congress, at which many Syrian government officials were present.  I also take note that the Syrian Negotiating Commission – that is the Opposition embracing all components specifically mentioned by name in resolution 2254 -- has issued a public statement by and large positive towards moving ahead on a constitutional committee under the auspices of the UN in Geneva.  
Mr. President,
15.  Since the Vienna and Sochi meetings, both of them important, I have been consulting intensively on the establishment of a constitutional committee. I have had initial discussions so far in Geneva with representatives of the Government of Syria, Syrian Negotiating Commission, and with a number of Governments. My team continues to be in touch with a wide array of Syrians – women and men. And I continue to look carefully at the candidates for a constitutional committee developed in Sochi and other relevant inputs.
16.  I also continue to pursue the convening, naturally, of the further formal intra-Syrian talks and advancing on all the four baskets of the political process in Geneva in accordance with resolution 2254. I am particularly aware of the need to focus now more than ever on the establishment of a secure, calm, neutral environment if any constitutional process is to unfold – and if UN-supervised presidential and parliamentary elections pursuant to a new constitution as envisaged in resolution 2254 are to take place.
17.  I am proceeding from here to Munich, God willing, where I will be consulting the Secretary-General and engaging a number of Ministers and other senior officials present for the Munich Security Conference.
18. Here is therefore Mr. President, the bottom line of my intervention: I intend to strike while the iron is hot and try to move the Geneva process ahead in consultation with all concerned. To do this, I need all the members of this Council, indeed the Council as a whole, and all who have influence on the Syrian parties, including the Astana guarantors and others, to push hard on three main points:  


  • First: to work urgently for de-escalation, civilian protection, and humanitarian access;
  • Second: to support the UN in Geneva to give effect in Geneva to the Sochi Final Declaration within the framework of 2254;
  • Third: to support the UN in convening the political process for the full implementation of 2254, in particular advancing real issues in the baskets to promote a safe, calm and neutral environment.

Mr. President,
The Syrian people and the United Nations need this Security Council’s support now more than ever.
Shukran Jazilan
Press Stakeout following UN Security Council Briefing
New York, 14 February 2018
SdeM: Thank you. This was an open session, so you I’m sure you have been following it and you heard what was said.  So basically, what I can say is that the Security Council was now in the private session, completely supportive of the role that the UN is expected to have in following up both on resolution 2254 and on the outcome of the declaration in Sochi for the facilitating the establishment of the constitutional committee in Geneva.  I can’t speak for the President [of the Council], but I can tell you what I told them when I thanked them for what I heard.  
Second - now going back to the main points because there are some points that are more important than others - you must of heard how extremely worried everybody was about the military escalation in several areas of Syria, you heard that and frankly that was repeated.  And it was also particularly evident due to a clear danger of regional spillovers which can have unpredictable consequences; that is a major concern.  And then the consequence of lack of humanitarian access, and you heard that too and it was reiterated again at level of Security Council.  And the fact that as I said in four years this is probably one of the most potentially dangerous moments I’ve seen in the conflict. 
On the political process, I explained the outcome of the recent Sochi conference, which has a final declaration - only one, there is only one final declaration and the Russian Federation very wisely and very effectively today distributed to the Security Council; and that one speaks very clearly on what is the UN role and what are the expectations of a UN role.  We will be working on that basis and working hard with a role of facilitating, in a most creative possible way, what is required for a UN-facilitated, but Syrian-led, constitutional process.  There is no country in the world where the constitution be written by foreigners, we all agree on that.  But in view of the major differences which exist among the Syrians, there is no surprise that 2254 - that is the only mandate I have - but also Sochi have indicated the need for the UN to facilitate that in Geneva and that’s what we plan to do. Over to you, I know you have a question.
Question: Yes Special Envoy, we listened very carefully to what Ambassador Jafari said, that he seemed to say that it wasn’t your role to choose the members of this constitutional committee. We’ve watched you do this hard work for four years going all over the world, but what we constantly see is the Syrian Government not being prepared to fully engage with your plans, isn’t now time it’s yet again they seem not to be engaging for you to call them out on their obstruction?   
SdeM: Thank you, I’m a diplomat and I’m a facilitator, my job is not to call out anyone - it’s actually to make sure that we move forward.  And as I just said, we are working on the basis of a very clear Security Council mandate and basically on a very clear message I got from the Security Council today; and what is said in the final declaration is that we have a job to do with respect to the Syrian-led job to do in writing a new constitution, but we will implement what we’ve been asked to do.
Question: You choose the members though, do you?
SdeM: I’m not talking about members, I’m talking about rules, the procedures, the timing; all that needs to be properly organized by the Syrians with the UN facilitation.
Question: Mr. Special Envoy, I want to ask you about French Ambassador’s comments that we are now at serious risk of an international and regional confrontation in Syria, do you share the same concern about it, given the recent deteriorating developments in Syria, do you share the same concern?
SdeM: I think I said it actually, if you read or heard carefully what I said, I think that in four years of my current mandate I think there’ve been few moments where the danger, potential danger not only of an implosion inside but of an explosion in terms of regional spillover of unpredictable consequences is there; that’s why the Security Council needs to be united.  I must say I found in the private meeting [consultations] a lot of unity and frankly common concern about it.  Sometimes when thing gets so dangerous, that’s exactly when the Security Council is more motivated to be united.
Question: Special Envoy, you didn’t mention in your remarks the proposal for a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire, which is before the Council now in the form of a draft resolution, do you think such a ceasefire is feasible? Do you think Russia should support that?
SdeM: First, I leave it to Russia to answer the second part, although in the meeting they were expressing themselves some concern regarding the lack of humanitarian action, but anyway I leave it to them.  Regarding a ceasefire, for humanitarian access, as you know I have a very senior and very respectable colleague which is Mark Lowcock who has that file - that’s why I didn’t elaborate on that, my file is more on the political, but you’re right everything is connected; having political talks in Geneva with humanitarian tragedy or escalation obviously is not a good proposition at all, we have done that, through that before.  Bottom line what I think I would have said if I had more time to elaborate on that was, there is an urgent need for de-escalation which means ceasefire, specifically in order to allow convoys to reach the besieged and the hard-to-reach areas.  Now thirty days, forty days, twenty days, I leave it to Mark Lowcock to indicate - but sustained and sustainable yes–it can’t just be one day.
Question: I would like to read to you a few words from the speech of Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, he is arguing that the people, the Syrian people in Sochi conference did not give Mr. de Mistura, Special Envoy to Syria, any authorization for mandate to (inaudible) the constitution of the, constitutional committee and that we in Syria are committed to what the people have voted for in that conference and we are not concerned with any, with any committee being formed by a foreign body - meaning the UN in this case. He’s arguing that you don’t have the mandate from the conference in Sochi and hence they’re not concerned. If the chief negotiator of the Syrian Government is not concerned with what your efforts are going to be, how do you aim, how you going to create success?
SdeM: First of all you were - he was referring and you are referring to the Sochi declaration -correct? Good. Let me read it to you. The Sochi declaration says that the constitutional committee would at the very least comprise government, opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks (the opposition we convene in Geneva), experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.  Care would be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria ethnic and religious components – OK? Final agreement is to be reached in the UN-led, UN-led Geneva process on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, selection criteria for the composition of the constitutional committee. And the Sochi declaration, which is the one Ambassador Jaafari was referring to says, we appeal to the UN Secretary-General to assign the Special Envoy for Syria for the assistance – facilitation - of the constitutional committee work in Geneva.  That’s what I will be doing. 
Question: But Mr. de Mistura, you must agree that if the chief negotiator does not recognize all what you have just read now and he is not concerned with the committee that you gonna form under (inaudible) supervision that doesn’t overwhelm to the success of your mission Sir?
SdeM: My mission is not an easy one. Thank you.