Press Availability at the International Syria Support Group

Secretary Kerry, Joined by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and UN Special Envoy de Mistura, Addresses the Media After ISSG Meeting in Munich

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura
Munich, Germany
February 12, 2016

Well, good evening, everybody. Let me start by thanking Foreign Minister Steinmeier and the people of Germany for hosting this important meeting of the International Syria Support Group on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, and we’re very grateful to our colleague, Frank Walter, for his help and assistance in this process and his participation as a member of the ISSG.

I also want to thank all the member-countries that understood the importance of our meeting here today. Foreign Minister Wang Yi flew all the way from China. We had a strong presence of all the ministers, because everybody understood the importance of this particular moment with respect to Syria.

Last fall, the International Syria Support Group came together out of a shared sense of responsibility for the nightmare that the Syrian people have been enduring for far too long. And in December we agreed on a set of commitments, unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, aimed at bringing an end to the war. Obviously, it’s been difficult. Everybody understands that. That effort at the UN led to specific UN-sponsored negotiations between the Syrian parties, which began under the stewardship of UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura and the UN itself. And everybody knows that as the situation on the ground in Syria grew steadily worse the talks themselves became wrapped up in the level of violence and in concerns that people had about negotiating under difficult circumstances.

Staffan de Mistura wisely at that moment, after conversing with both sides in what were always scheduled to be proximity talks, then delayed this process knowing that we were meeting here in Munich yesterday and part of this morning. During this time, the perception of many members was that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was violating international law by trying to force surrender through starvation. And with the help of indiscriminate bombing, the regime intensified its assault in Aleppo, killing civilians and forcing more than 60,000 Syrians to flee their homes in search of refuge across the Turkish border. And it is our perception that rather than hurting Daesh, this process has, in fact, empowered Daesh to take advantage of the chaos.

UN Special Envoy de Mistura who convened those talks agreed that we should come here to Munich in order to allow the ISSG nations and the parties themselves to try to make the necessary progress to bring about humanitarian access that is urgently needed on the ground and in trying to implement a ceasefire on both sides.

Foreign Minister Lavrov worked closely with me and with the rest of the members today and I’m pleased to say that as a result today in Munich we believe we have made progress on both the humanitarian front and the cessation of hostilities front. And these two fronts, this progress, has the potential, fully implemented, fully followed through on, to be able to change the daily lives of the Syrian people.

First, we have agreed to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately. Sustained delivery will begin this week, first to the areas where it is most urgently needed: Deir al-Zor, Fouah, Kafrayah, the besieged areas of rural Damascus, Madaya, Mouadhimiyeh, Kafr Batna, and then to all the people in need throughout the country, particularly in the besieged or hard-to-reach areas, the smaller neighborhoods and towns.

This access is specifically called for in UN Security Council resolution 2254 and to ensure that it is fully implemented the United Nations will convene a task force made up of members of the ISSG and of relevant UN entities and of countries that have an influence on the parties particularly. And this working group will meet tomorrow in Geneva. It will ensure that humanitarian access is granted by all sides to all people who require help. And it will meet, as I said, for the first time tomorrow. It will report weekly on progress or lack thereof to help ensure a consistent and timely and approve access moving forward.

I will say that it was unanimous. Everybody today agreed on the urgency of humanitarian access. And what we have here are words on paper. What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground in the field. And Staffan will speak to that.

In addition, the ISSG members will work together with the Syrian parties to ensure the immediate approval and the completion of all pending UN access requests. As everybody knows, there have been about 114 of them – only 13 or so, 14 approved – and that has to change.

Second, we have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week’s time. That’s ambitious, but everybody is determined to move as rapidly as possible to try to achieve this. This will apply to any and all parties in Syria with the exception of the terrorist organizations Daesh and al-Nusrah and any other terrorist organization designated by the Security Council.

To that end, we have also established a task force under the auspices of the UN and co-chaired by Russia and the United States. And over the coming week this group will work to develop the modalities for a long-term, comprehensive, and durable cessation of violence, of hostilities. We will begin to exercise our influence by the commitment of every country at the table immediately for a significant reduction in violence as we work towards the full cessation of hostilities.

Now, I want to underscore putting an end to the violence and the bloodshed is obviously essential, as is providing Syrians who are starving the humanitarian aid that they desperately need. But ultimately the end of this conflict will only come when the parties agree on a plan for a political transition in accordance with the Geneva communique of 2012. And we have no illusions about how difficult that is. No one here is following some pipe dream in this effort. People fully understand that compromise will be necessary, that it will be essential to resolve very tough issues that are outstanding. But without a political transition it is not possible to achieve peace.

Today all ISSG members agree that the Geneva talks should resume as soon as possible and they should resume in strict compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. And the ISSG also pledges – all of us – to take every single measure we can to facilitate progress within the negotiations. In December we agreed on a six-month timeframe for the political transition process and today we reaffirmed our commitment to that timeline. We approach this, I think, with a uniform belief that the killing and the starvation of innocent people needs to end as soon as possible.

Now, obviously, just in closing I’ll say our hard work is obviously far from over. But our work today, while it has produced commitments on paper, I want to restate the real test is clearly whether or not all the parties honor those commitments and implement them in reality. What I’ve said again and again is we cannot guarantee success in the outcome. What the diplomatic process can guarantee is that we exhaust the possibilities of diplomacy and that we make every best effort to try to produce a platform on which the parties themselves can determine their future.

That is what we’re trying to do here. The longer this conflict persists the better it is for extremists, the more people like Daesh profit. And they have found a safe haven in war-torn Syria and we are determined that we’re going to continue and upgrade and increase our efforts to degrade and destroy Daesh as fast as possible. I am hopeful that the progress we’re making here will be real, that we’ll be able to see this reduction in violence – which everybody accepted as a fundamental organizing principle of this effort – and that within this week we can get the modalities secured for the cooperation necessary to be able to produce a ceasefire.

We also agreed in the ISSG that there’s no way to institute a ceasefire effectively and no way to produce the access we want for humanitarian assistance without all of the ISSG members working with Russia and others in an effort to guarantee that the access is provided and that the cessation of hostilities actually takes hold. And to that end we have agreed, all of us, to work with Russia in a way that deals with the political, the humanitarian, and the military components of this challenge.