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Near verbatim transcript of stakeout by Mr. Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, following the humanitarian taskforce meeting

28 July 2016

Good afternoon, and sorry for the delay, but as you know there have been new indications and discussions taking place regarding both Aleppo and the overall situation.

Let me first of all say that I am asking my deputy to go to Damascus in the next few days in order to discuss with the Syrian authorities some ideas that we have developed in order to facilitate some type of launching of what we intend to be, in August, the Intra-Syrian Talks.

I myself am proceeding to Teheran in order to make sure that the Iranian authorities are well on board, in view of the so-called Moscow understanding, which was the outcome not yet finalized in its own details, between Russia and the US, the two co-chairs.

Let me now address the humanitarian taskforce. The main point I wanted to make is that we are, as you know – because everything is connected and everything is linked, regardless of the different roles that we try to have between political, humanitarian and military- we are all awaiting and urging the two co-chairs, Russia and the US, to expedite their own discussions on how to reduce violence, along the lines of their meetings in Moscow and then in Laos, particularly between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry.

On the humanitarian side, the reality on the ground is that, currently, what is actually impeding the access to humanitarian aid is not permissions, is not papers, it is rather fighting. Fighting is the main reason for which this week, we are not able to give you good news about humanitarian access.
Meanwhile, there is a feeling too that, perhaps, waiting for talks, or, perhaps, waiting for whatever the follow-up is to the Moscow understanding, facts on the ground are taking place, or appear to be taking place. In this connection, we are, very seriously, concerned about Aleppo, but not only Aleppo, of course, we have to be fair in looking everywhere in the country. Damascus, the recent bombing of the center of the town, Daraya, the bombing of its agricultural land, which makes it more difficult for humanitarian access, Eastern Ghouta, the four towns, which will be a subject I will be raising when I travel, and the latest horror, which took place in Qamishli.

In Aleppo, the situation is extremely serious, no doubt. We heard, probably, that there is only two to three weeks of supply, in addition to the bombing of the warehouses, medical facilities and bakeries, and the need of treating wounded people when in fact medical facilities are being hit. The humanitarian situation is getting more and more concerning. The city is de facto besieged because it is almost militarily completely encircled. The clock is therefore ticking, there is no doubt about that. If Aleppo becomes a humanitarian major besieged area – and we are very close to that- we would have a huge number of additional besieged – humanitarian wise- people in the country, when we were actually having a reduction. You must have learned, like all of us, we actually learned it during the taskforce, this breaking news of a Russian military proposal by the Ministry of Defense. It is premature for me and others to actually make any comments, until we have further details on what has been and is the Russian proposal or initiative. We do have the cessation of hostilities taskforce meeting this afternoon and I’m sure that some of the capitals of the countries who are members of the ISSG and the UN from a humanitarian point of view, will be analyzing it more deeply. That’s what we are at the moment in terms of information.

Q. You mentioned that this is a little bit premature but obviously this is a very important development if a Russian-Syrian-led humanitarian corridor could be arranged. Could you tell us what you’re thinking about the possibility of the UN participation in that, notably because some people will be skeptical about the people leaving some areas and who are taking advantage of this offer, where they will be held afterwards, can you please tell us what the UN role will be?

SdeM. Well, the first thing the UN is supposed to do when there are breaking news like this – we were not consulted that’s why we are, like everyone else, being told what is the proposal- is to consult now my headquarters, OCHA in particular. Stephen O’Brien is in charge of humanitarian operations and we are still a little bit early in New York. I will be in touch with him in order to have his own feedback on that.

Q. May I just follow up on that. The Russian Defense Minister has also mentioned that you are sending experts here to Geneva, what is planned with that, and was it indeed based on a request from Secretary Kerry.

SdeM. I understand that there are several experts from the military establishment both from the Russian and the US on the way to Geneva, probably and most likely to discuss the “devil is in the details,” which we have been asking to be sorted out as soon as possible, because while these details are being discussed, things are taking place on the ground. Please bear with me, I also want to be able to have my colleagues from the humanitarian side to analyze the information that they may be getting on how this Russian initiative fits with the humanitarian initiative.

Q. I know that you don’t want to comment specifically on this Russian proposal, but the proposal actually allows the civilians to actually leave Aleppo, rather than the priority of getting aid in. In principle and as far as I understand it, UN aid agencies don’t usually support that particular kind of initiative. Could you just answer yes or no please?

SdeM. Well, I see your point, and it has been one of the points that has been raised by some of the members of the HTF, when they heard this type of breaking news, but allow me to wait for my headquarters. I think we should have a very professional analysis on such an important development so that we can address it properly.

Q. It’s a follow-up to the question I’ve asked you on Tuesday. What happens if the Russians and the Americans cannot agree on a military cooperation deal, because you previously said that the future peace talks depend on this, and the formula for the political transition. But if they cannot do this deal, then are you going to cancel the peace talks in August?

SdeM. I will not tell you that I am going to cancel peace talks, because the UN is bound to try, and try again, and try again, and when we fail, fail better and try again. That is our philosophy, especially when what is at stake is such a tragic situation for the Syrian people, after five years. What I can tell you is that if those discussions do not produce fruits, they will certainly have a very negative impact on the chances of the talks to become fruitful and successful. They will be anyway, uphill talks but we need to give them the maximum chances.

28 July 2016, Geneva