24 April 2018

Note to Correspondents: Transcript of joint press conference by Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

SdeM: Thank you Federica. First of all, thank you to Belgium for organizing this very useful and important occasion.  Today, as Federica was saying, we are sending a message that the conference tomorrow is not only among countries - and many of them have a stake, and want to have a stake, in the future of Syria - but first listen to the people, talk to the people, listen to the Syrian people.  They were sitting around the table together today, many of them did not agree with each other, in fact we noticed it, but they were able to sit around the table, that’s exactly what we want at the political level, which has not yet happened. 

Second point is that they were asking us, I am referring to the meeting today with the Civil Society - how can we be involved, more involved, and the answer we gave is, of course there is a road map called [Security Council resolution] 2254 but there are two specific areas, one is Constitutional Commission, or reform or change, and the second one are UN-supervised elections. And Civil Society needs to be part of both of the Constitutional Commission - and we will make sure that happens, if finally the Government and the opposition, particularly, agree on doing it, and we insist on that. And in the elections, that’s exactly the purpose of the UN-supervised elections, but they need a safe, neutral environment, people should not be kidnapped or killed when they try to be part of it.  So that was one of the messages.

The other one is referring to the reality on the ground.  We have seen in the last few weeks, days, we have seen it with our eyes, that military gains, territorial gains, and military escalation do not bring a political solution, have not brought any change on the political (level) - on the contrary, we have seen very difficult moment, because at the Security Council, and I can say that because we were attending a seminar the other day, what has been achieved by the Secretary-General is to lower the pressure, the temperature, which was getting to a very dangerous level of rhetoric and of discussions, lower it in order to be able to start talking again about a political solution. The truth is that everyone has their own political solution, and that is what we need to work on and it is time for high diplomacy on this.

Last point, we were concerned, our concern is on the humanitarian side: Idlib, because Idlib is the big new challenge. 2.5 million people, and you will not believe that all of them are terrorists, of course, they are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there, so we hope that would be an occasion for also making sure that Idlib doesn’t become the new Aleppo, the new eastern Ghouta because the dimensions are completely different.

And very last, while we are trying and pushing, together with everyone, in particular with the EU, who tomorrow is promoting this remarkably timely conference, that the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian people, while they are waiting for this famous political solution, would not be abandoned - because that’s the danger too, while they are waiting for it, that suddenly the humanitarian aid is reduced.  So that is basically today, tomorrow is going to be more political and more humanitarian, but today I felt good vibration from the Civil Society - they didn’t fight, they didn’t argue, they were making concrete proposals and they were not desperate, they didn’t lose hope, so we cannot lose hope even if it is not a good moment.
Question: (To Federica Mogherini) Could you tell us about your efforts to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire on the ground, maybe through the letters you send to the three guarantors of the Astana?

SdeM: Let me add to that because this is a very important point, there is a job that Astana’s three countries are supposed to do, and they claim they want to do it, and that is de-escalation - we have seen recently the opposite, escalation.  So it is right that we expect and ask them to do that job.  Sochi had one job: to create the environment for the Constitutional Committee, they were supposed to deliver it to the UN, and that has not yet happened.  Geneva and the UN is where all this should be used in order relaunch the political process based on what we discussed.  That’s why everyone has his job.  Asking the UN to do a miracle, or the EU to do a miracle when big players are not doing their part, is asking for too much.  So we are asking them to do their part.
Question: (To Federica Mogherini) How do you characterize the situation of the Syrian Civil Society? Is this civilian track today healthy and mature to have an effective involvement on the negotiations table, and Mr. De Mistura, you have taken part in the Security Council retreat in Sweeden, how did you see that the meeting achieves any level that can give any hope for the peace negotiations to be resumed any time soon?

SdeM: First of all, I totally agree [with Ms. Mogherini], you spoke for me I speak for you.  Now regarding your naughty question, because it is a naughty question, because you know very well that that was an informal meeting - a retreat of the Security Council members, no one was wearing a tie, the men, the ladies were relaxed as well, in the sense that that is something that you do not go into details, so I can basically tell you only the broad lines, not anything more than that.

The outcome of it was, first of all, very timely, it had been planned already long time ago, but in life history sometimes coincides, after two weeks of terribly tense and rhetorically intense meetings there was a need again, for what I said before, to bring down the tension.  Diplomacy is made by human beings, you talk to each other, you need to talk to each other, you need to understand your instructions, my instructions, our agenda your agenda.  That type of atmosphere was very important.  Has this avoided or completely resolved the division, which exist, still exist, in the Security Council on Syria, which is the biggest problem the UN Secretariat has in Syria - different from Libya or Yemen, in Syria there is division.  Has this been solved? No. Has the atmosphere gone down and the understanding that there are common issues that can be faced together? Yes, but the next steps are now about finding together political solution and I can’t tell you that that was found in Sweden.  But the atmosphere for preparing more serious and calmer discussions - yes.

I will stop there.