Remarks With UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura after Their Meeting
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I’m very appreciative to Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, for his tremendous work and his efforts over the last months to help to bring life to a political process in the midst of a conflict that is in many ways out of control and deeply disturbing to everybody in the world, I hope.
The cessation of hostilities that we were able to negotiate and put in place over the Christmas holiday and into January has had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of many Syrians during the time that it has been kept, and over much of Syria violence has been significantly down, many lives have been saved, and many communities have succeeded in having humanitarian assistance delivered after in some cases years in which they had no humanitarian assistance. But it is a fact that in the last weeks, the cessation of hostilities has been put to test, and it has frayed in certain areas and it has fallen completely in a few areas. And so we are engaged in an effort with all of the members of the International Syria Support Group and with Russia particularly in an effort to restore that cessation of hostilities in those places where it has been most at risk or most shredded.
In particular, in the last hours of Saturday morning, we were able to restore a brief period of the cessation going back into effect in East Ghouda and in Latakia. And now we are very much working and focused on the question of restoring the cessation of hostilities to the remaining areas where it’s been disturbed, but particularly to Aleppo. And Aleppo is particularly disturbing to everyone for what has happened there. There are three health clinics now, one major hospital, that have been attacked from the air by bombs. There are only two air forces flying in that particular area, and the Russians are clear that they were not engaged or flying at that time. The regime has clearly indicated the willingness, over a period of time now, to attack first responders, to attack health care workers and rescue workers. And the attack on this hospital is on unconscionable, under any standard anywhere. It has to stop.
The last pediatrician who was serving people in the Aleppo area was killed the other day in this hospital, not to mention probably some 250 civilians, some of whom were killed by the other side. So both sides – the opposition and the regime – have contributed to this chaos. And we are working over these next hours intensely in order to try to restore the cessation of hostilities, and at the same time to raise the level of accountability that will accompany the day-to-day process of implementing the ceasefire. To that effect Russia and the United States have agreed that there will be additional personnel who will work from here in Geneva on a daily basis, 24/7, in order to – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – in order to try to make sure that there is a better job and a better ability to be able to enforce the cessation of hostilities day to day.
I will be talking later today by telephone with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and Staffan de Mistura will be traveling to Moscow tomorrow for meetings. Our hope is that over the course – as soon as possible; we’re trying to press this as fast as is possible, but I don’t want to make any promises that can’t be kept. So we are trying in the next hours to see if it is possible to reach agreement that can not just re-implement cessation, but create a path forward for the cessation to hold so that there isn’t one day of silence or two days of silence, but an ongoing process that relieves the people of Syria from this devastation, from this day-to-day killing machine that is being unleashed by the Assad regime. And obviously, it is incumbent on the United States and our colleagues in the International Syria Support Group to keep our part of the bargain, which is to make certain that the opposition is living up to this agreement, and it is incumbent on Russia and Iran as they have accepted responsibility to make sure that the regime is living up to its part of this agreement.
At the same time, it is imperative that the full measure of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 – which not only calls on the parties to have a cessation of hostilities, of a country-wide ceasefire, but it is imperative that the humanitarian access that was promised in that resolution is delivered. And the regime, unfortunately, is still preventing access to certain communities. So that has to be part of our ability to be able to get back to political talks. You cannot have legitimate political talks about peace when the parties at the table have both signed up to an agreement which calls for a full cessation of hostilities countrywide as well as a full delivery of humanitarian materials countrywide, and yet one party is blatantly violating that agreement.
So this is the moment to try to make certain that what everybody has signed up to is in fact being delivered, being lived up to, without hypocrisy and without variation. And that’s what we’re working for, and I’m hopeful that over the course of the next day or so greater clarity will be available as to exactly what progress has been made.
MR DE MISTURA: Thank you. Thank you. First of all, I want to thank you yourself for having been so actively involved and coming all the way here to Geneva to address urgently an issue that you are very much caring about (inaudible) the U.S. and Russian Federation, who on the 27th of February were able to do a miracle. Now, that miracle is becoming very fragile – so fragile that it’s really wasting a lot. You mention it, and (inaudible) in particular needs to be addressed – 254 victims I think (inaudible) in the last few days; three hospitals (inaudible). There is no excuse for not finding again a reinvigorating and reinstalling and re-implementing what has been the only strong message the Syrian people have heard from all of us, that it’s possible to have talks when finally the cessation of hostilities is renewed and the violence (inaudible).
Tomorrow, as (inaudible) discussed, I’m going to Moscow, and the message will be exactly the same. I hope really that the message that we gave at the Security Council the other day, a feeling (inaudible) the U.S. and Russia and the special team that we have, which is called the International Support Group, will be reinvigorating what has been a major (inaudible).
So in the next few days, we will hope to do so. The Syrians are asking for that every day (inaudible) – every day.
SECRETARY KERRY: And I forgot to mention – obviously, I shouldn’t forget – I met earlier with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir, who will be meeting with Staffan shortly. And he agreed and we agreed to make maximum efforts with the opposition itself in order to make certain that they are ready and prepared to go back to the table the minute a cessation and the – is in place appropriately with these new mechanisms, and that the humanitarian blockade is opened up. These are very important things, and I think we’re all agreed that we need to make progress on them. Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you really trust the Russians now?
QUESTION: Sir, other than adding the personnel here to monitor and enforce the ceasefire, has anything else been yet agreed? Is there any progress in establishing the safe zones in Aleppo?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, there are. There is some provisional agreement – I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But the answer is there is progress in terms of what is being discussed at the table. There are several proposals that are now going back to key players to sign off. We’re hopeful, but we’re not there yet. And I don’t think we should – we’re not going to be in the business of promising something’s done before it’s done. But there is a serious conversation taking place, with serious additional proposals that have to be signed off on by various people, but I think we have some agreements about how to go forward. We simply have to now work through the details and implement it. But there – this is always a tough business, so we’re not there yet. We’re going to work very hard over the next 24 hours, 48 hours to get there.
MR DE MISTURA: Let me add one point on that.
MR DE MISTURA: Let me add one point. We are reinvigorating, actually together, between the Russians and Americans in the UN building, the operations center. In other words, we are preparing the mechanism. But the mechanism we need the political will, otherwise we would have only a mechanism. But that is actually being started today, preparing for a much better mechanism for monitoring and controlling a new ceasefire, reinvigorated. But we need political will for that. (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well said.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, do you think you can trust the Russians on this?
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MR DE MISTURA: Thank you.