Transcript of press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura

Note to Correspondents

GENEVA, 22 March 2016-[In response to a question about the composition of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board delegation, the Special Envoy said the following before delivering his own statement at the stakeout.]

SdeM: I can tell you that they really represent various realities of the Syrian situation.  One of them is a mother and wife of a person who has disappeared, the other one is certainly wearing traditional clothes, in other words you haven’t seen them all. And trust me they are quite impressive in the way also they represent, in my opinion, every component of Syria.  Some of them are pro-government, some of them are also opposition. Some of them are purely intellectually independent, but they have been able to talk and actually come with common points, which I hope the men will also be able to do.

So let me now address instead the rest of the day.  The rest of the day was the focus on some homework. We are working hard, the whole team of advisers and colleagues who are working on preparing; after all we still have two days, no more than two days, before Wednesday and part of Thursday, when we will be closing this session.

And that’s why we are all working hard in getting a common understanding of what has been – as you know, some papers have been produced by the government, others have been produced and given to us today by the opposition in addition to others.  Our job is to see where are the points in common and where are the points of difference, and do what the mediator normally does: see where there can be common areas.  If that is the case, we will let you know by Thursday.

The next step is what we will talk about on Thursday, when we meet again.  The opposition, HNC, has been presenting some additional documents. I presume they referred to them, and we have been sharing with the opposition the basic principles’ paper by the government, and they themselves had their own reaction to that.

We will elaborate, and tomorrow will be an interesting day because we will be meeting both of them. Plus, of course as usual, we will be consulting other stakeholders and what we call the different platforms that are available. As I did today consult our own Women’s Advisory Board.

That’s basically where we are at the moment.  I am ready for questions

Q. Regarding the Riyadh delegation, you remember their proposals during the last round of talks. What has changed in their narrative since then?

SdeM: I am not going to tell you what are the different positions, otherwise my role as a mediator would be [inaudible], and then we will have basically each of the regular brainstorming together between the press, which I respect, and I already have enough interlocutors and with you it will be quite a number. No, what I can tell you is the atmosphere, the atmosphere has changed. And I think it has changed even from the government point of view.  We have not had a walk out, or slamming the doors. We have not had the refusal of acknowledging the existence of others as interlocutors. We have not had joint meetings, but the proximity talks have continued, with some level of mutual respect towards the fact that the mediator is allowed, and should be, in listening and hearing the positions of others. In fact, sometimes eagerly hearing the position of others: where is the paper of the government? Where is the paper of the HNC?

So from that point of view there is a change, and the answer is why? Because I think, or I want to believe, that everyone has an interest in maintaining this cessation of hostilities, because that is benefiting every Syrian. And those who will be breaking it or spoiling it will have to respond not only to history, but to the Syrian people, who are already sometimes demonstrating, saying: “leave us like this, we like [the cessation of hostilities]”.  

Second I think there is a feeling that this is a different page, in which you have to at least try or show that you are serious about wanting to find a political process and a political transition. We are not yet there, but that’s the atmospherics.

Q. The Syrian Government delegation has demanded to postpone the next round of the talks, due to its coincidence with the parliamentary elections to be held in Syria on the 13th of April.  Would you satisfy this demand?

SdeM: Thank you. Can I answer that by Thursday? Because we have not yet finished the meetings, and this is part of some of what we normally do in every meeting – at the end of the meeting, you discuss the next dates and what will be the next agenda even sometimes. So I will be able to reply to you on that, and I certainly have an opinion about it.

Q. Can I ask you a little bit more about the homework that you set to the two sides: the questionnaire with 29 questions, all about transition. Did they both complete their questions and homework, particularly the government side? The issue of political transition: are they properly engaging on this issue or are you going to need some help from Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov in Moscow?

SdeM: Well, we always need some help from Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov, because they have been really proving in the past, and I hope they will prove in the future, that when they do have a common understanding, it helps enormously the process. After all we would not have had, in all fairness and in all modesty, Vienna 1 or Vienna 2 and in fact even Munich 1. So, in fact, on that point of view, we are looking with great interest, expectation, hope and strong expectation that the talks that will take place in Moscow will be productive. Obviously not everything will be solved in one day, but productive in the right direction in order to help us to resume the talks with much more in-depth address on the issue of political transition. Regarding the issue about the government, again we am not finished yet.

Q. Today we have the impression that there is a confrontation between conferences of Vienna 1 and Geneva 1. The opposition is not satisfied with the Vienna conference, while the government bases its work on this conference. What do you think? Also, do the attacks in Brussels today change the situation for you, given that Mr. Ja’afari yesterday spoke about terrorism?

SdeM: Regarding Geneva and Vienna, both are fundamentally important and complementary. The Geneva communiqué is clear, it is the reference since the beginning. Nobody has really ever put in doubt the Geneva communiqué, even Russia has supported it. Time has passed, we have entered more into details and we had Vienna and Resolution 2254, which is a formula to put in practice the Geneva communiqué. So I don’t want to support competition between the two conferences. We do like a lot Geneva, that’s why we have meetings here and everything started here. There is no contradiction, there is complementarity.

Regarding the attacks in Brussels, a city that I know and appreciate, the tragedy in Brussels becomes an additional element to remind us that we must not waste time.  If everything started partially in certain parts of Iraq and now in Syria, the solution and the fight against terrorism, and by terrorism the UN is very clear on who the terrorist are – Daesh and Al-Nusra, that’s it. To fight against terrorism, the best formula is political on the basis of a political transition in Syria. At this point everybody will be able to concentrate on this and avoid such tragedy.

Q. The statements made by both the opposition and the Government delegations to the press are very principled and sound very intransigent. Is it that they say something different to you when they meet with you? And what about the “grey” area which you promised us?

SdeM. Thank you for reminding me about the “grey” area, because this is my main focus. You have to know, and I know you do because many of you have been long enough in this political analysis, you have public statements, you have rhetoric positions, you have pre-positions and you have discussions and negotiations. All that is part of what we are doing. And therefore not surprising but not at the same time overstating what you are hearing. There are points that are discussed privately that may help in producing the grey zone. All that is true but is part of it. So I am sure you are not surprised. Thank you very much. See you for the grey moment.

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