Background Briefing on the Conflict in Syria and the International Syria Support Group

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Vienna, Austria
May 16, 2016


MODERATOR: All right, guys, let’s get started. So we have with us today a senior State Department official. And for your edification, it’s [Senior State Department Official]. He’s going to – he’s here to talk a little bit about the context for tomorrow’s ISSG and the overall – the situation in Syria and the political process in Geneva.

So without further ado, Senior State Department Official. Do you want to say something or just open it up to questions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll be just really, really brief. I mean, obviously, this is the latest installment of the ISSG, which is – it really is, we consider, an important institution, an important channel for bringing together, because it does, in fact, bring together everybody on both sides of this conflict. In the past we have used it in the run-up, for example, to the unanimously adopted Security Council resolution in December. We have used it to call out barrel bombing and to press the case on humanitarian relief – I mean access for humanitarian relief, and to call out attacks on civilians. And if you remember at the beginning of this – the ISSG process, the first one in Vienna, we didn’t talk about transition because, frankly, we did not have an agreement to talk about it. We didn’t have agreement among the members of the group to talk about a political transition in Syria.

But we have done that now. We got agreement on that, as you know, and that’s all codified in UNSCR 2254. So it’s extremely important. It’s, I think, important that the ISSG meet in between rounds of the negotiations. I won’t be able to tell you when the next round of the negotiations is because nothing – it’s not set yet. But it’s important to help kind of set the – set the atmosphere. And this one, like most, will have – focus on three issues. One is the cessation of hostilities; second is the access for humanitarian relief; and third is the political process.

Without further ado, over to you.

QUESTION: You mentioned the upcoming round of UN-facilitated talks. A few days ago, Staffan de Mistura said he would await the results of this ISSG meeting before announcing a new date for those talks. Do you have any insight on what kind of results he’s waiting to see before moving forward?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I – it’s – I can’t read Staffan’s mind, but I can tell you that we’re all trying to get the cessation of hostilities in a better place than it is right now, and we can get into what’s going on on the ground. But clearly, although there is still a cessation of hostilities – it is still a nationwide cessation of hostilities – but as you know, there are several places where fighting is going on. It tends to fluctuate. Over this past weekend – I mean, it’s Monday today – it was actually a little quieter in several places, but still some areas where it’s not quiet at all. So that’s one thing, the cessation of hostilities being in better shape.

I think he would also – again, I can’t speak for him, but let me just speak for us. We need a better – full, not better – full, unimpeded, sustained access for humanitarian relief. That doesn’t mean we have to have that before the next round. I’m just telling you that’s what we’re looking for. These are not – let me be clear. These are not preconditions. But what we’re trying to do is create the best possible environment for the talks, which are getting closer and closer to the most sensitive transition-related issues. And so we’re just trying to do everything that we can to improve that environment. But let me be clear. First of all, it’s not – they’re not preconditions. And secondly, these things have to get done on their own right regardless of the negotiation.

QUESTION: Does August the 1st still retain significance as the date when --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It does.

QUESTION: -- political transition talks (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It does. As you know, that’s what Secretary Kerry discussed with our Russian colleagues in Moscow, and that’s the basis on which we continue to operate.

QUESTION: And what would it mean to meet that deadline then? August the 1st they have to be in the room together?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, what we have said is that we should have – it’s never about being in a room together, by the way. As you know, these are – these have been, so far, proximity discussions anyway. So I wouldn’t put so much onus on an event, okay, or --

QUESTION: But the regime has to be discussing its own solution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, but – but we have – right. So what we have said, the target for August is to have a framework in place, a framework agreed, for a political transition. That’s the significance of the August date.

QUESTION: And you think you can make that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’re going to try.

QUESTION: Well, doesn’t the regime argue that that exists and the Russians that you already have a – isn’t the framework Geneva I?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s not – it’s an agreed framework on a real transition, on the details of a transition, Matt, okay? And you might say, okay, we’re all signed on to the Geneva communique, the Geneva communique has a transitional governing body, et cetera, et cetera. But as you know from what Staffan de Mistura has been doing, he is trying to tease out from both the sides: What do you mean about transition? What are the practical steps? He’s also asking them about the constitution as well. So it’s about – it’s about the details of the transition.

QUESTION: And what, so far, has he been able to tease out of the government?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think so far – I mean, first of all, again they were not beyond – I said at the beginning that the ISSG was not using – if you go back to the first communique, we were not talking about a transition, as you know – not the word – and now we are. The parties are now talking on the basis of that there would be a transition, but what we’re not there yet is on the details. And I would say what you really need from the regime in particular, to have a more constructive approach to it and a more detailed approach to the questions that Special Envoy de Mistura are asking, detailed questions about how do you envision and what are the details of a transition.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a little bit about the border-related issues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of course.

QUESTION: Since – first of all, we – I think today is the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot so you guys can be out here celebrating this.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the best book on the Middle East by David Frum.

QUESTION: Frum?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Frum. If you haven’t read it.

QUESTION: So the agreement signed in November, of course, envisions a whole Syria on – in its – in its current borders, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm. Right.

QUESTION: Yet, every time we have a conversation with members of the ISSG – many members, not all members of it – they all say yes, that’s true but we can’t see how you get to a political agreement unless you’ve got different parts of the country divided out. And with Assad, especially given his current situation bolstered by the Russians, will have his own territory; the Kurds will have theirs. Hopefully the opposition will have something. ISIS, hopefully, will get wiped out. So tell me how you’re (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So there – yeah. So I did – I don’t know whom you’re citing as to that we –

QUESTION: You’ve heard this too, I’m sure.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I mean, I’ve heard the idea all the time, but I haven’t – I don’t – I can’t say I put my finger on the current negotiators. I don’t hear the HNC saying well, for example, that we see – we might get part – this part of Syria and he gets that. That’s not what I see. And frankly, I haven’t heard it from the regime either. So – and the Kurds have other ideas, which you know, which were expressed in their position – their announcement about federalism which, as you know, was then criticized by both the regime and the opposition. But we don’t see it like that. So we see a Syria that is whole and has its integrity together and a transitional government that is the transitional government for the entire country, not part of it.

Now what – who knows what they might decide down the road, but the one thing – one of the things that they agree on is that there should be national unity and integrity of the Syrian state. If you get – if you talk to the HNC and you talk to the regime, they both say that. So I’m not sure who’s saying this. Again, the Kurds have this different idea with federalism. But if you know – if you look at when they made their announcement, they did say autonomy and they did – and they said the territorial integrity and unity of Syria, but within that we want federalism. Okay? There can be – and I would not be surprised if there are things developed to enhance decentralization, which is not federalism. I mean, it’s something less than federalism. But I know a lot of people have talked about decentralization. But no, we’re not talking about splitting up the country or any of that. This is one Syria over which the transitional government would govern.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on David’s question?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure.

QUESTION: How would you respond to criticism, some of it coming from analysts who say that ultimately President Assad is really just going through the motions when it comes through it – comes to the political transition –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that he’s better positioned now, has more leverage --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- militarily because of Russia’s involvement --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- and ultimately really has no – his ultimate goal really is not to shift --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- but just to really --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- put on the face of being cooperative with a sound transition process?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Right. So I cannot read Assad’s mind. I – so I can’t tell you that he has a different view on that. But he has signed on, they have signed on, and their backers have signed on to a political transition according to the Geneva communique, the details of which are left to be decided. So there are many, many people who doubt his – or are suspicious of what he is intending to do. Despite the Russian support, it’s as true today as it was before that there is no military solution to the war. And it’s still true that they have – you have to have a united fight against Daesh or you’re – otherwise, you’re handicapping yourself in fighting against Daesh. And Daesh is a real threat, of course, to Syria.

So it’s not so much a question of what’s in his mind. It’s that we’ve all signed on to this and this is what he needs to do. He needs to agree to a transition and along the lines of the Geneva communique. So you can – people – it’s not surprising that they would doubt his intentions, but it’s not about intentions. It’s about having – getting – that’s – going back to this ISSG, it’s about getting those that support him to agree, and he needs to agree to it.

But in the meantime, in the meantime, what we’re here about is that he needs to – not only to agree to, but to implement what he has committed to do, which he has not so far done, which is to really comply with the cessation of hostilities in a full manner and give full humanitarian – full, sustained humanitarian access, which was part of the – you can go back to Resolution 2254, you can go back to other ISSG statements. I would take you back to the February 22nd joint statement between the United States and the Russian Federation and the annex to that. That’s what the parties signed on to when they went into the cessation of hostilities that started five days thereafter. And that’s what we do not see the regime doing fully.

And if you look now, we have this very bad situation of the blocking – there have been multiple deliveries to – humanitarian relief deliveries to some places, and yet, if you look at the Damascus suburbs, and all these places are named, including in the May 9th joint statement that we did – nothing has ever gone through to them, and the regime is blocking it. The regime, as a matter of policy, is blocking this access.

QUESTION: If the cessation took hold on a longer-term basis and if humanitarian relief was being distributed, could you live with the transition process remaining blocked if it becomes a manageable conflict, if there’s not great violence (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, it’s – but you’re asking – forget about the fact that it’s a hypothetical, and they tell me I don’t have to answer hypotheticals – but no – but --

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no, no, but just – just think of it. I mean, just think of it. This has always been – the cessation of hostilities is a means to an end. Humanitarian relief you can’t say is a means to an end because it’s just – obviously it’s about saving lives, and let’s not forget about the medical part of this. But the cessation of hostilities is not just out there just as an – yes, it’s an inherent good because even with all the problems, fewer people have been killed as a result of this. Some people are able to do things now that they were not able to do, but it’s not nearly good enough and it – and it’s being threatened very – being seriously threatened.

So no, I – you have to have that – not just the horizon out there, you have to have movement towards that horizon on the political side. Again, the parties --

QUESTION: Or else --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me just say, the parties signed on to – sorry – the parties signed on to a cessation in and of itself, not as part of the political thing, but they’re all interlinked. I mean, obviously your attitudes – anyone’s attitudes towards a cessation and complying with it are going to be colored by where is this process going, are we getting closer to our goal.

QUESTION: But if the cessation takes hold, if the relief is going through --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if the system – if the political process is still blocked, what is the next step? Obviously the pressure on the regime will grow at that point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the next step is just to keep pushing away, banging away, in order to get the political transition – the framework in place. So we are still operating on – to go back to this – on the August timeframe, and we just – it’s just nothing but going back and doing the hard work that’s – and the pushing that’s required.

QUESTION: If you had to weight the three items that you had listed, could you give us a sense of how much you’re going to spend, the focus on the three items --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, at the meeting?

QUESTION: -- the cessation, the access --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I have – yeah, sorry. I have to say it’s hard to tell, but I can tell you – it really is; I’m not dodging the question – because if you look at the past meetings, sometimes they’re unpredictable and you think it’s going to be something and it’s not. Cessation of hostilities is going to be, I would expect, front and center. But if – and I would have said, if we had had – you’ve been reading a lot about Daraya and the other places – Moadamiyeh is another place – about – we’ve been waiting for access, and it’s unconscionable what the – unconscionable, unacceptable what the regime is doing. It’s actively blocking – it’s trying to decide who eats and who doesn’t eat, who gets medicine and who doesn’t get medicine, and what types of medicine they get, maybe.

If there had been progress over the last few days because we were intensively focused on these Damascus suburbs, then I would have said maybe a little bit less on that, but there hasn’t been progress. That’s the fact. So I would expect it would be very prominent as well. So again, I can’t assign percentages. The political issue is always there and it kind of gets talked about throughout the meetings. Even if you’re talking about cessation, people will say – they’ll say, for example, to get back to your question, “Well, how do you expect people to stay on with the cessation if they don’t see this horizon?” But I can guarantee you all of the issues will be discussed.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s been some talk among some of the talking heads in Washington about the potential for some sort of a deal between the United States and Russia.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right, right, right.

QUESTION: And can you envision – are there any – is there any discussion whatsoever going on about circumstances in which Assad would stay on in some kind of role and something that might be a little bit more flexible than what has been the public position so far --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- which is that he has to go?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, our view is still that he has to go and that this is a transition away from Assad, the details of which, the timing of which are still to be – ultimately to be determined by the Syrians. So I don’t really have anything new for you on that and I don’t know where the – I don’t know how much flexibility there might be on the other side of it, on the other side of the equation. But we – the details and timing of transition are ultimately up to the parties to work out.

We obviously – we’re talking to the Russians because we’re trying to get – we’re trying to create that better environment for the political negotiations than has existed up until now because you’re still not down – particularly on the regime part, on the regime side. The opposition more so – has been more willing to get into some of their detailed thinking. The regime is still not there and I think that’s really the key to this – not just using the word transition, but saying, okay, here is one idea, here is another idea.

So the position – our overall position really hasn’t – really hasn’t changed on his status and the kind of projection. They – it’ll get decided by others in the end, not by us. It’ll be decided by the Syrians, but there has to be a – this – I know it’s an overworked expression, but a genuine political transition away from Assad.

QUESTION: Where is the U.S. and Russia, as chairs of the ceasefire task force, with this concept of the sort of localized ceasefires that we saw in Aleppo and Latakia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you at a point --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So --

QUESTION: -- where you’re moving away from that approach?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We were never at – to be clear, we were never at localized ceasefires, local truces, local ceasefires. This was never what this was about. And I understand – I mean, if you see 24 hours this, 48 hours that, then you start to think these are separate deals. They’re not really separate. The deal is one nationwide ceasefire without any time limits and no geographical divisions or even segmenting of it or staging of it. It was never like that. True, what we did was we looked at these hotspots or whatever you want to call them, and where the fighting was most threatening to the overall cessation of hostilities – where you could really just disrupt the whole enterprise – and we said, “Okay, if we can’t just say, ‘Okay, the cessation is back on in these places,’ can we try this for 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours?”

But people said, “Why did you leave out Aleppo?” Aleppo was never left out. It’s just that that’s where most of the – so much of the fighting was. And even over this past weekend, you have some pretty intense fighting in some areas between the Syrian regime and the opposition, between the Syrian regime and Nusrah in a place called Khan Tuman in Aleppo. And then other parts of Aleppo are pretty – have been pretty quiet over the weekend, for example. So – and the same with the Damascus suburbs. So these places were never left out; it’s just that we needed some kind of extra thing to call people’s attention to it and try to get things back on track. But they were always part – ongoing – part of the same – I will say, the reason why I say it is why do we say this is not a local truce, this is not – it’s because people don’t want them. They want – the Syrian people want one nationwide cessation of hostilities and really a ceasefire.

And there have been efforts, sometimes from the regime, to do local deals, which have a bad odor because they were used for military purposes. In other words, they weren’t just some genuine effort to actually stop the fighting, but to gain advantage – for the regime to gain advantage. And it used – we believe they used food and medicine – or denial of food and medicine – as a tool to get what they wanted. So that’s why we don’t talk about local truces or local ceasefires, but the main point is there aren’t any. So --

QUESTION: So the Russians don’t seem to be backing down on this idea that Ahrar al-Sham in particular, but others, are essentially the same --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: – as Nusrah. And frankly, after what happened on Thursday – I think it was Thursday --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- it’s hard to argue with them, is it not? Now, I know that this was a major topic of discussion in Saudi with the Secretary just over the weekend.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: But is there any – I mean, are you guys swayed at all? Is there any possibility that they might get what they --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, clearly, that – the incident that you’re talking about was an unacceptable incident just – and there are other, by a whole variety of parties, things that should not have been done. And in some cases, they’ve been criticized by other – I’m not talking about this case, Matt, but in other cases they’ve had incidents where other elements of the opposition or even elements within the same organization come out and criticize activities that have been done.

It’s our view that these are still – everybody but Nusrah and Daesh that came into the cessation of hostilities originally, they’re still there. So to be honest, I wouldn’t be – I am not privy to the Secretary’s discussions over the weekend. I’ve been in Geneva and then came here this morning. But – so there isn’t – I can’t speak to any kind of reassessment. It’s true that the Russians have pushed on this from the beginning – Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam.

QUESTION: What is – what are the Russians asking for --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it’s a couple things. Originally they – they said that Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are terrorists and they should just be – matter of fact – and they have had – made efforts in New York to get them listed. As you know, the ISSG and the ceasefire task force agreed that the only parties that are out – unless somebody opts out on their own – are – is Daesh, Nusrah, and there’s a couple of other organizations that have been designated by the 1267 committee in New York. Small – the other – there are three, but they’re smaller, much smaller organizations. I don’t even know that they’re operating in Syria at all. I think one does operate in Lebanon, for example. So for now that’s – it’s the same. It’s where it is. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Well, is there any talk about expanding the blacklist? Do you expect that to even come up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, what --

QUESTION: Do you expect there to be any discussion at all about expanding that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That --

QUESTION: That blacklist, or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s – I don’t know. I mean, it’s possible. You’d have to ask the Russians that. It has been raised in New York. I don’t if it’ll be raised here or not, because in the end, the Russians raised it – I mean, the Russians raised it earlier on and then it went away. Then they were not raising it.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but it’s come back.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And it – but it’s come back. No, no, I’m --

QUESTION: Then it came back the day after the UN Security Council vote on it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right, right, and it comes back periodically. But for now there’s no change to the list and I have no crystal ball --

QUESTION: So you will continue to resist that, as far as you know.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as – right now the situation is the same as it was before.

QUESTION: Right, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t say what --

QUESTION: -- the situation isn’t the same as it was before, because --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I’m talking about --

QUESTION: -- they have been – at least Ahrar al-Sham has been actively not just commingling with but participating in – and this isn’t just like the Russian propaganda allegations. This is them saying it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right, so --

QUESTION: “Here we are with our buddies from Nusrah, pillaging a village.”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So our position is that these – we have these two designated terrorist groups.

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They are not beneficiaries of the cessation of hostilities. Other groups should not be consorting with them, okay --

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, they are consorting with them. So what do you do?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have a hypothetical – I mean, I don’t have a future --

QUESTION: But if this --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have a – no, I’m --

QUESTION: I mean, but it’s not hypothetical. It’s happening.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: At first I think you – it was put down to, well, this is just the Russians doing the Syrian regime’s bidding and these guys really – I mean, the Saudis really are pushing for these guys, that they’re a big – a major fighting force and if they didn’t exist, then the opposition would largely be irrelevant. But now it looks like – this is starting to look like the Russians and the Syrians had a point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Nobody – look, no group should be attacking civilians, intentionally or unintentionally attacking civilians. And they should not be – and nobody should be cooperating with terrorist organizations. Can’t say much more about it than that at this point.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – so to come – just to be clear, so to come up to – for this meeting to have the benefits of coming together, you want exactly what on the cessation of hostilities?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, to get it in a better place to end these – to end as much as possible the various threats. Look at these areas where the most – where the biggest threats to cessation of hostilities are. It needs to be on a more solid foundation than it is right now, okay? So look at Aleppo. Look at Latakia, northwest Latakia in particular. Look at the Eastern Ghouta and Damascus suburbs. Those are the areas – but there are some things going on in Homs, in Hama still, as you know, and in Idlib, as you know. Although over the weekend, Idlib was quieter. That doesn’t mean – tomorrow you could be turning around and have a lot of activity in Idlib. But you have to end those biggest threats to the cessation. What you have to have is, again, to go back – I always go back to this annex to the February – because that really says what these people are supposed to be doing and not doing, which is you’re not supposed to be either acquiring land, territory, or trying to acquire territory from other participants in the cessation of hostilities. Well, that’s not the case. In some cases it is, in some places it is; in other places, no, they are absolutely – there are offensive actions that are designed to take more territory. That has to stop.

And then on the humanitarian stuff, it’s clear – because we’re not talking about improved access, okay? We’re not talking about some medicine, some food. We created a standard, and again, the standard is in that annex to the February 22nd letter – it is full, sustained, unimpeded access to every place in Syria – full stop. And – and – that there’s only one determiner of how many people are in need and what those people need, and that’s the United Nations. It’s not the regime – or anybody else, for that matter.

QUESTION: And then I want to come back to what Carol had raised about analysts in Washington.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Ones that probably know and watch Syria a bit more than most --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- have come up with last week – Phil Gordon and (inaudible) --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- came up with some interesting points that your allies are getting frustrated with this process, and that there is a deal in the making on the transition. Can you confirm or deny that there isn’t a deal that’s being worked out here that would – or something that would actually resolve this quicker than -- are you --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- do you need to move on to another track to get this resolved?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I – well, no. If you’re saying dispense with this – for example, the ISSG – I don’t know what you’re talking about exactly or what – I’m not even sure what they’re talking about. But first of all, you mentioned that the allies are frustrated. Like, we’re – everybody’s frustrated. Okay? It’s not just the allies being frustrated.

QUESTION: Well, then why don’t you change the approach?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What do you mean, “change the approach?” We have been talking to the Russians throughout this process. But in the end, the political deal is going to be done by Syrians at the table or in their negotiation – I don’t want to say “at the table” because of the structure that’s been created. So it still is for Syrians to do. If we can help – all of us can help get the parties there, nudging on both sides to get the parties there, then fine. But they’re ultimately going to be the ones that decide this.

QUESTION: And you wouldn’t – you don’t have a say in this? Through the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of course we do. Of course we do. We have – no, of course we do. I mean, we’re – we do, and we have created these structures during which we have been talking intensively with the Russians, for example. And we do talk about all aspects of this conflict, most intensively of late on the humanitarian side, because we have to get this done. So yeah, I think we have a big say. But it’s not that others don’t have a say either. So --

MODERATOR: Let’s do a few more and then we’ll move on. Anyone? Okay. Then we’re good.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

MODERATOR: So thanks again.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Has de Mistura set a tentative date?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, so he hasn’t. Just to go back to that question, no, he hasn’t. I think he’s agreed – and I think we’re all agreed, Matt, let’s not run out to set a date. That’s not the most important thing. The important thing is getting the cessation and the humanitarian in a better position so that you don’t have people – when they talk --

QUESTION: Syrian state media have said April 23 – I mean, May 23.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They could have said April 23.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, the Syrian – I wouldn’t (laughter) --

QUESTION: Of what year?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of what year? Matt’s exactly right. No, I guarantee you that any date that’s being talked about means nothing, because it hasn’t been – because it has not been – there’s nothing settled.

QUESTION: Well, if they want to have them in Geneva, you better hurry up, because the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which auto show or which – what – huh?

QUESTION: The hotel rooms are all gone for the summer.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s all about hotel rooms. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Did you want to have this meeting now --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, actually, we did.

QUESTION: -- or would you rather have it been maybe another week or two --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Well --

QUESTION: -- down the road, maybe closer --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- no, but then what do you do? I – when we set this day – first of all, we just needed to have a meeting, obviously. So the situation demands the meeting. That’s what set it up. But when we set it, I would have said, “Well, we should have had more progress particularly on the humanitarian side by now.” But there the address is the regime. And I didn’t say it before, but we expect the Russians to press the Syrians to deliver on a commitment that they gave to a – that the regime gave to a bilateral U.S.-Russia joint statement. It’s a commitment they gave to them. So there’s – and so this is about the credibility of the whole process, but they made commitments. And they’re not meeting those – they’re clearly not meeting those commitments. And we shouldn’t --

QUESTION: You’re talking about the regime or the Russians?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m talking about the regime. No, but we look to the Russians because as part of this process they have said – and sometimes it’s even there in – as you know, in several of the ISSG statements, the parties pledge to use all of their influence with the parties with whom they do have influence to – whether it’s stopping attacks on civilians – by the way, of course, stopping barrel bombing; barrel bombing it outside of the cessation of hostilities; it shouldn’t have been going on all of this time; it has nothing to do with the cessation – and to delivering on the humanitarian side. So that’s the expectation that we have of the Russian side. And they expect us to nudge – work with the opposition to get them to comply. And there is – there are a couple of communities, very small minorities – there are a couple of the besieged, hard-to-reach communities where it’s the opposition that really has to then give the access. And that’s what we work on, but the vast majority, almost all of them are regime, and as I said, we have a whole slew of places to which nothing has ever gone.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.