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On Syria, ISSG Statement from Munich, Here, Blog of Presser

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- When the UN pulled the plug on the Intra-Syrian Talks, or merely as envoy Staffan de Mistura said pushed them back to February 25, de Mistura said that the UN "is not prepared to hold talks for the sake of talks."

 Now from Munich on February 11, this below has been issued. In the press conference that followed, three questions were taken: New York Times, Russian N TV, and BBC Arabic.

Russia's Sergey Lavrov brought up Ukraine, and said he would not mention Palestine. (One waited to hear of Yemen.) He said the Financial Times misused what Ban Ki-moon said, that Ban hadn't blamed Russia. (Inner City Press witnessed Ban enter the Security Council soon after Vitaly Churkin on February 9, but Ban's spokesman refused to say why.) We'll have more.

"Meeting in Munich on February 11 & 12, 2016, as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States decided that humanitarian access will commence this week to besieged areas, and an ISSG task force will within one week elaborate modalities for a nationwide cessation of hostilities.
The ISSG members unanimously committed to immediately facilitate the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously December 18, 2015. The ISSG reaffirmed their readiness to carry out all commitments set forth in the resolution, including to: ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué in its entirety; press for the end of any indiscriminate use of weapons; support and accelerate the agreement and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire; facilitate immediate humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and the release of any arbitrarily detained persons; and fight terrorism.
Ensuring Humanitarian Access
In order to accelerate the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid, sustained delivery of assistance shall begin this week by air to Deir Ez Zour and simultaneously to Fouah, Kafrayah, the besieged areas of Rural Damascus, Madaya, Mouadhimiyeh, and Kafr Batna by land, and continue as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.
The members of the ISSG will use their influence with all parties on the ground to work together, in coordination with the United Nations, to ensure that all parties allow immediate and sustained humanitarian access to reach all people in need, throughout Syria, particularly in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, as called for in UNSCR 2254. To this end, the UN will submit a plan to an ISSG humanitarian task force, which shall convene on February 12 and next week. This group will comprise the ISSG co-chairs, relevant UN entities and members of the ISSG with influence on the parties in a position to ensure humanitarian access.
The ISSG reaffirmed that humanitarian access should not benefit any particular group over any other, but shall be granted by all sides to all people in need, in full compliance with UNSCR 2254 and international humanitarian law. The ISSG asks the UN to report weekly, on behalf of the task force, on progress on the implementation of the plan referenced above, so that in any cases where access lags or approvals are lacking, relevant ISSG members will use their influence to press the requested party/parties to provide that approval. There will be a process for resolving any problems so that relief can flow expeditiously. Any questions about access or delivery will be resolved through the task force.
All ISSG members commit to immediately work together with the Syrian parties to ensure no delay in the granting of approval and completion of all pending UN requests for access in accordance with UNSCR 2254, paragraph 12.
ISSG co-chairs and members will ensure that aid convoys are used solely for humanitarian purposes. International humanitarian organizations, in particular the United Nations, will play the central role, as they engage the Syrian government, the opposition and local populations, in arranging the monitoring and sustained and uninterrupted distribution of aid.
Achieving a Nationwide Cessation of Hostilities
The ISSG members agreed that a nationwide cessation of hostilities must be urgently implemented, and should apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra, or other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council. The ISSG members commit to exercise influence for an immediate and significant reduction in violence leading to the nationwide cessation of hostilities.

The ISSG members decided to take immediate steps to secure the full support of all parties to the conflict for a cessation of hostilities, and in furtherance of that have established an ISSG ceasefire task force, under the auspices of the UN, co-chaired by Russia and the United States, and including political and military officials, with the participation of ISSG members with influence on the armed opposition groups or forces fighting in support of the Syrian government. The UN shall serve as the secretariat of the ceasefire task force. 

The cessation of hostilities will commence in one week, after confirmation by the Syrian government and opposition, following appropriate consultations in Syria.  During that week, the ISSG task force will develop modalities for the cessation of hostilities.
The ISSG task force will, among other responsibilities continue to: a) delineate the territory held by Daesh, ANF and other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council; b) ensure effective communications among all parties to promote compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions; c) resolve allegations of non-compliance; and d) refer persistent non-compliant behavior by any of the parties to ISSG Ministers, or those designated by the Ministers, to determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements for the cessation of hostilities and the protection it affords them. 

Although a cessation of hostilities can facilitate humanitarian access, it cannot be a precondition for such access anywhere in Syria.
The ISSG decided that all members will undertake their best efforts, in good faith, to sustain the cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance, and take measures to stop any activities prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2170, 2178, 2199, 2249, 2253, and 2254. The ISSG again expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries.
Advancing a Political Transition
The members of the ISSG reaffirmed the imperative of all sides engaging in negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations as soon as possible, in strict compliance with United Nations Security Council 2254. They reaffirmed that it is for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria. The members of the ISSG pledge to do all they can to facilitate rapid progress in these negotiations, including the reaching of agreement within six months on a political transition plan that establishes credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and sets a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution, free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under supervision of the United Nations, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
Full implementation of these objectives will require the ISSG co-chairs and members, the UN and others, to work closely on political, humanitarian, and military dimensions. "

  Inner City Press on February 10 asked UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft about the exclusion of the Kurdish PYD from the talks. Video here.

  Rycroft, one of the few Security Council Ambassadors who still speaks to the media gaggle on his way into the Council, told Inner City Press he didn't want to second-guess the co-chairs of the talks, de Mistura, John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov.

  Back on February 5, the UN Security Council met to hear from de Mistura by video, behind closed doors. Afterward, Inner City Press asked three of the Permanentn Representatives in attendance why the Kurdish PYD had been excluded from the talks.

 Security Council President for February Rafael Ramirez of Venezuela said, Yes, this had been discussed. Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said since Kurds at 15% of Syria, they should be included - and that if Turkey supports Syria's territorial integrity, it should stop blocking the PYD.

  But after French Ambassador Francois Delattre speechified at the UNTV microphone and had taken two questions, Inner City Press asked quite audibly about the PYD. Video here.  Delattre's spokesman directed that the UNTV microphone be given to Reuters for a vague question, then Delattre said, C'est fini.

  Inner City Press asked again, loudly, about the PYD. Delatte walked away, indicating as he has before, I will have to get back to you. But he has not, for eaxmple on Burundi. Later Inner City Press heard rumblings about the use of Periscope -- see here for acts of Voice of America -- which, ironically, a number of Security Council delegations use and follow Inner City Press on. But what ABOUT the PYD? Watch this site.

On the way in, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stopped and took five questions from four media, largely blaming Russia for the pause in the talks. Video here.

  Inner City Press tried asking, third time until it worked, what about the “petty procedural issues” that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had also blamed in his post-pause statement. A definition has yet to be given; Rycroft replied to Inner City Press' question on what the opposition should do on February 25 by saying that the opposition needs to be shown it is supported.

   For balance, Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked about this accusation and called it “in bad taste.” Churkin added, “They should blame those who support the terrorists. It's not a Russian escalation, it's intensified efforts by the government to fight the terrorists.”

 On February 4 in front of the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked Rycroft's Deputy Peter Wilson what Ban Ki-moon meant by "petty procedural" and other issues stalling the talks. Video here, and see below.

 Later on February 4 the UN Mission of Venezuela, President of the Security Council for February, issued a statement that, on February 5 the Security Council will hold a meeting to evaluate the political situation in Syria after the talks were suspended for three weeks by the Special Envoy of the Secretary General Staffan de Mistura.

  Venezuela's Ambassador Rafael Ramirez said in his national capacity, “We are in favor of dialogue without any preconditions, and the most important thing is that the countries that have influence with the government or the opposition are committed to and confident in the negotiations.”

  Inner City Press asked Ramirez if Sudan will speak on the debate on sanctions on February 11; Ramirez said yes. On February 1 Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access (FUNCA) asked Ramirez to hold such Q&A stakeouts after closed door meetings: and on February 4, he did. Tweeted photo here.

  The UK's Peter Wilson said the London Conference is "our" (UK) focus, and to pay attention to the speech Ban gave. On that way to the UN Security Council stakeout, another country's diplomat told Inner City Press there would be a session with de Mistura on February 5.

  As Inner City Press was filming the Q&A with Wilson, the correspondent from Voice of America took two photographs... of Inner City Press' phone. The gola, we surmise for past and recent experience, may be to Ban filming and whole technologies at the UN Security Council stakeout and even elsewhere in the UN, which the old UN Correspondents Association has tried to do in the past.
 The new Free UN Coalition for Access (FUNCA) would oppose that - watch this site, and note that many Security Council delegations use Periscope, and the UN itself purports to promote social media.

  Notably, de Mistura's statement did not cast blame for the failure - but hours later, Reuters channeled a "senior UN official" it allowed to remain unnamed:

"A senior U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that de Mistura called a halt to the talks after Russia increased air strikes to help the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, undermining the negotiating process. 'I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the (United Nations) did not want to be associated with the Russian escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely,' the official said."

  Reuters did not explain WHY it granted anonymity to this described "senior UN official." But since even this source said he or she "thinks" de Mistura decided, it called into question, what kind of source is this? UN Political chief Feltman, whom Reuters UN bureau chief has previously used, would not "think" what de Mistura decided. 

 But now Ban Ki-moon has said, or read, what the unnamed senior UN official said, albeit without naming any country, see below.

 Does Reuters grant (more) anonymity to Ban Ki-moon?

 At the UN in New York on February 3, Reuters' correspondent actively cut off Inner City Press questioning about UN corruption, saying "you're grasping at straws." Vine here, story here.

  Meanwhile the UN bureau chief promoted himself appearing at a Vienna UN event, top-heavy with Reuters connections.

 On February 4, Ban said this:

"It is deeply disturbing that the initial steps of the talks have been undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombings and military activities within Syria.  The focus on the people of Syria is also being lost amid petty procedural matters."
  Ban Ki-moon and petty? Say it ain't so.

Back on December 18 in the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, ministers Lavrov and Gentiloni, Fabius and Kerry passed through with entourages; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left early typically without answering any questions, as Inner City Press Periscoped and reported. Hours later, the draft resolution was agreed to, then adopted 15-0 by the UN Security Council, here.

 On December 26, the UN issued this for its envoy Staffan de Mistura:

"Further to resolution 2254 (2015) of the Security Council, unanimously adopted on 18 December 2015, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has intensified efforts towards convening representatives of the Syrian Government and the broadest possible spectrum of the Syrian opposition and others to engage in a political process leading towards implementation of the objectives and principles for a political solution to the Syrian conflict as contained in the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012, and the Vienna Statements of 30 October and 14 November 2015.
"In line with the clear parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the Special Envoy intends to complete his consultations in early January, with a view to initiating intra-Syrian talks on a target date of 25 January 2016 in Geneva. He counts on full cooperation of all the relevant Syrian parties in this process. Continuing developments on the ground should not be allowed to derail it. The Special Envoy also relies on the continued crucial support of the International Syria Support Group.
The people of Syria have suffered enough. Their tragedy is now felt throughout the region and beyond. They deserve the full attention and commitment from all their Syrian representatives, who should now show leadership and vision to overcome differences for the sake of Syria."

 The day before, on December 25, on Syria UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness said:

"UNRWA welcomes any developments that could end the armed conflict in and around Yarmouk, and ease the inhuman conditions that Palestine refugees and other civilians are in Yarmouk continue to endure. Over the past three months, there have been persistent reports of negotiations for some form of truce or evacuation arrangement in Yarmouk.  These reports are credible and UNRWA is taking them seriously, although they have not been officially or formally confirmed, and details have been vague. There are several thousands of civilians living in deeply abject conditions in Yarmouk. As UNRWA is deeply concerned about their well-being, the Agency is seeking from the Syrian government further details of any negotiated arrangements that will affect the humanitarian situation of civilians in Yarmouk. In particular, UNRWA demands that any arrangements being negotiated in and around Yarmouk must include guarantees for a durable cessation of hostilities, for the protection of civilians, and for safe, uninterrupted humanitarian access for UNRWA and other humanitarian actors. UNRWA is redoubling its strong appeals to the Government of Syria and relevant actors to allow and facilitate humanitarian access to Yarmouk.  This is urgently needed to enable UNRWA to   deliver food, clean water, winter supplies,  healthcare,  and other humanitarian assistance and services to civilians in Yarmouk. UNRWA stands ready immediately to respond to the humanitarian needs of the entire civilian population of Yarmouk."

  Meanwhile the head of Jaysh al Islam Zahran Alloush was killed al Ghouta.

  Back on December 18 at the UN the US day ended in a bilateral meeting between Iranian minister Zarif and John Kerry -- a photo spray was canceled -- and a low key meeting on Iraq and Turkey that we asked about and reported on here.

  Kerry and Lavrov, joined by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, held this three-question press conference. Kerry said the negotiations should begin in mid to late January (in contrast to the early January in the resolution). Lavrov said only the “patriotic opposition” should be involved in negotiations. Staffan de Mistura said very little.

  That Kerry's spokesman John Kirby, who ran the press conference, gave the second question to the Washington Post, and the third to Russian media, was perhaps understandable. But the first question, Kirby set aside for “Al Arabiya.”  The question quickly turned into three, after being branded for “UNCA,” now the UN Corruption Association, a group which sold seats with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for $6000 only earlier this week.

 We now add: UNCA gave one of its prizes, a free trip to Turkey, to one of its Vice Presidents, from Agence France Presse. Even Kellogg's prohibits its employees from competing for its prizes. But not UNCA, which ignoring the Iraq - Turkey meeting in the Security Council was trying to buy people with Prosecco on December 18, after selling seats with Ban for $6,000.

  Several other UN-based journalists -- not (only) this one -- complained afterward that the first question and attempted follow up were a “Saudi circus” which made the UN press corps look bad -- as did attempt to throw out certain journalists, photographers, from the front row at the beginning.

   Afterward a photo spray of a meeting between Kerry and Iran's Zarif was declared “by invitation only” and then canceled. In the Security Council, with very few journalists still at the stakeout, the US presidency began the meeting on Iraq's complaint against Turkey being in its territory. We'll have more on this.

After the vote inside the Council Lavrov said, “The unanimous adoption today on the Council has created a broad front on the basis of the UN Charter, on the basis of all of those who are pushing back against terror, including the Syrian army, [some] armed militias, parts of the Syrian opposition, and the Russian air forces, in response to the legitimate request of the Syrian government."

Inside as Nasser Judeh of Jordan spoke, UN TV cut repeatedly to Syria's Bashar Ja'afari, looking more and more skeptical. France's Fabius spoke briefly and left. Outside at the stakeout, talk turned to a Kerry press conference, open to all.

 Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, by contrast, scheduled a press availability only for Italian media. A wag from the Free UN Coalition for Access asked, Isn't Gentiloni the foreign and not interior minister? Isn't he running for a Security Council seat? We'll have more on this.

In the  hotel lobby in the late morning a Permanent Five member of the Security Council's spokesperson briefed a gaggle of journalists in the lobby amid hissed that it was “off the record.”

  There was a gingerbread model of the NY Palace hotel which, the sign said, took 300 hours to make. All that was lacking, one wag - this one - snarked on Twitter, was a little gingerbread Laurent Fabuis.

 Back that UN, the 1 pm stakeout by the EU's Mogherini was postponed and then canceled. The Security Council scheduled for 3 pm got pushed back to 4.  Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Ban had spoken, what would he have said? Vine here.

On December 17, the day before Syria talks resumed at the New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, finance ministers spoke in the UN Security Council about cutting off financing for ISIS. French finance minister Michel Sapin spoke darkly of the use of pre-paid cards for the November 13 Paris attacks; Russia's Ambassador Churkin named two Turkish companies as involved in ISIS oil sale.

  Inner City Press asked Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, who came to take questions at the Council stakeout, about ISIS' oil. He named Turkey, then want on to name Qatar and Saudi Arabia, slamming its “Sunni coalition” recently announced.

  When US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, along with Sapin and the UK's George Osborne held a short press conference in the UN briefing room, Inner City Press hoped to asked Sapin about pre-paid cards, and Lew and Osborne about Bitcoin. But the question, just four, were limited to Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York and Financial Times. So it goes.

   It seems there will be no Press access at the New York Palace; Ja'afari has said he will speak, at the UN, and whatever ISSG press availability there is should be at the UN, with a 3 pm meeting on December 18 scheduled. Watch this site.

Back on December 8, Inner City Press put thee questions to  Turkey's Ambassador Cevic. Video here.   Here's fast transcript by

Inner City Press: On Syria, do you think the Vienna process meeting should take place in New York on the 18th? Are you satisfied with the Saudi process for choosing the opposition?

Amb Cevik: The plans, I don’t know how fixed, I mean how clear it is, but we are making our preparations for the meeting.

Inner City Press: Are there any groups invited to Saudi Arabia that you think shouldn’t be part of the opposition delegation?

Amb Cevik: I think so far, in our view, they are working on the right concept. Let’s see if they succeed. Having a coalition group that would be able to take part in the process is one of the most important things.
Inner City Press: [Russia] said the group that killed their pilot should be put on the terror list. Do you have any view on that?

Amb Cevik: If they know the specifics, I don’t know. But to our knowledge, there was no terrorist organization, no extreme Daesh, Nusra, in that area. They are the Turkomens, and we know them, they are moderate people.

  This may be an issue. Watch this site.


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