Seeking to maintain momentum for renewed diplomacy towards a political settlement of the conflict in Syria, the United Nations Special Envoy on the crisis said today that the UN is ready to support any decision taken at the next round of international talks in Vienna this weekend and that he hopes the discussions yield some deliverables for the long-suffering Syrian people – namely, a lessoning of the violence.
“My main purpose was to make sure the Security Council was well-informed about what is happening in Vienna,” Staffan de Mistura told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after briefing the Council ahead of a new round of high-level talks set for this weekend in the Austrian capital facilitated by the Russian Federation and the United States.
The outcome of the first discussions, which took place two weeks ago, was welcomed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said in a statement issued by his spokesperson that it was encouraging to learn that participants had reached mutual understanding on a number of key issues, including the need to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war.
Commended the efforts and commitment of the 17 countries and the European Union for launching “this much needed political process,” the UN chief said this was the first “meaningful understanding” among international actors since the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, and the first one to have been reached in the presence of all the countries that hold the key to a resolution to the Syrian conflict.
Today, Mr. de Mistura said he told the Security Council that “as far as we are concerned, as the UN, we are ready to support whatever decision will be taken in Vienna.” He explained that there had been a decision to create three sub-groups: on terrorism, “which is a pending issue, as you know” one regarding the opposition; and one on humanitarian issues.
“This is certainly a sign of the seriousness of wanting to address issues that have been pending. And then of course, on Saturday there will be the next ministerial meeting,” he said, adding: "we hope that this is going to continue giving the signals that have been given so far. My message was one word: momentum.”
Emphasizing that the momentum generated in Vienna must not be lost, he said: “Think about where we were a few months ago: we never imagined we would have the Russian Federation and the [United States] heading the same table, and on one side having Saudi Arabia and Iran on the other, plus other countries.”
“So this type of momentum [which] we have been waiting for we need to support,” he said.
Asked if the UN would be involved in setting the parameters of the talks –defining terrorism or terrorist actors, identifying opposition groups or addressing the presence of Iran in Syria – Mr. de Mistura said the peculiarity of the Vienna discussions is that the actual meetings are co-chaired by the US and Russia.
“The UN is not calling these meetings. We are supporting. We are getting the job from them. We are going to help those that are going to discuss those points, but we are not leading a discussion. I'm going to support, not to express an opinion,” he stressed, noting that his job is to make sure that countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran come to the table and come up with a political process; “then we pick up the pieces and run with it.”
"[We are] not the ones imposing a certain formula. We have tried for four years and it didn't work. Now it's time for the countries to actually pick up those challenges,” he said.
Acknowledging that the matter of defining terrorists “is quite an issue, as you can imagine,” he explained that this was why there will be a special working group on the matter among the countries.
“As far as identifying terrorists, I have to abide to what the Security Council has decided, and the Council has identified two: ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and Al Nusra, and some organizations that are linked to Al Qaida. I stop there and the rest is up the countries involved in the region and elsewhere.”
Asked what he hoped the talks would achieve, Mr. de Mistura said that he and the Secretary-General had been emphasizing that “we want the meetings to bring some deliverables to the Syrian people and one of them should be a reduction of the violence. Some type of lessening of the conflict and I hope something along those lines can be achieved.”