John Kerry: 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.
Sergeï Lavrov: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, to add on what John has said, I would like to first of all to join in gratitude towards our German hosts, to thank the team of the UN for the efforts that they have taken. This meeting was opportune because we’ve been worried about these issues that had arisen with the implementation of the agreements that we had reached at our previous meetings. And the main result of today’s meeting, as I believe, is the unconditional confirmation of the resolution 2254 in full. This refers to humanitarian aspects, political process, anti-terrorism, ceasefire, with exception for such terrorist organizations who have been recognized as such by the United Nations Security Council.
We have considered all issues that impede the implementation of the resolution. John has mentioned some of them. Special attention has been paid to humanitarian situation. For all these reasons, this situation is aggravating. And to solve this problem, in order – and as in order to implement all our other agreements we need joint work, collective work. And we are advocating this work and we have been calling for such work since the very beginning of our airspace operation in Syria. And our colleagues are becoming more and more aware of the need of such operation and we are happy about that.
As for humanitarian problems, we are satisfied that today we’ve managed to agree on principles of their solution on the idea that access will be provided throughout Syria to all besieged areas without any exception. This will be done in an integrated manner so as not to discriminate anyone and not to solve problems by ignoring other parts of the country. We’ve been concerned, in particular, by the fact that previous efforts of the United Nations when such decisions were being considered together with the government and the opposition were disrupted at the fault of the latter.
John mentioned Madaya, Fouah, Kafrayah. The UN has been for a very long time working with — together with the Red Cross committee to provide simultaneous supply of humanitarian assistance to all of these settlements. And the government was responsible for making these possible, with regard to Madaya, opposition promised to open the way for humanitarian supplies to Fouah and Kafrayah.
Last month the government has met its part of obligations. The opposition has refused from its promises. The UN and the Red Cross committee had to make statements condemning such refusals. Now, when we have written down the need of an integrated approach towards all these problems, I hope that the opposition and those who control various groups of opposition will have no more reasons to somehow avoid meeting their obligations.
As John said, we have agreed to set up a task force which will have a meeting tomorrow in Geneva and will be working on a regular basis co-chaired by Russia and the United States with the participation of experts. And the goal of this task force is to help the UN and other humanitarian agencies to carry out their obligations with regard to civilians. We have developed a mechanism which will allow to objectively consider difficulties that may arise and to find prompt solutions of these situations.
As it is written down in today’s documents, we will work together with the government, opposition groups which have – which are in contact with us. And we hope that the U.S. and interests in the region and other participants of the International Syria Support Group will use their influence on the relevant opposition group so that they cooperated fully with the United Nations.
We have our common determination to help alleviate sufferings of the Syrian people and we hope that this will be achieved. This is especially important given that some of recent events relating to the humanitarian problem in Syria related to refugees only and they had nothing to do with the destinies of a huge number of internally displaced people. So we have reasons to hope that we have done a good and useful job today and that it will be implemented in practice.
We welcome the readiness of the U.S. and some other countries to join operations that the Russian side, together with the Syrian Government, is carrying out to drop humanitarian assistance from aircraft in Deir al-Zor where there is the greatest number of civilians that are besieged. We have also agreed to use parachuting of humanitarian assistance in some other areas where it is possible. But the biggest part of efforts will – we will have to make on the ground.
The second point that is an important achievement of today’s meeting is the issue of ceasefire and as a first step towards it, that is the cessation of hostilities. This is a complicated task. There are too many stakeholders involved in military activities and it is important to use the unique potential of the International Syria Support Group, which unites almost all countries that have some kind of leverage on those fighting on the ground.
We have agreed to prepare modalities during a week which will determine the ceasefire, the regime of cessation of hostilities, given that during this period the Government of Syria and the opposition groups will be able to take necessary measures to prepare for this cessation of hostilities and modalities will be developed by another task force which we have also set up today, as John has said, which will be working under – co-chaired by Russia and the U.S., as well. It will include diplomats and the military, without whom it is extremely difficult to deal with practical issues.
The modalities which we will have to develop are important. And I would also like to emphasize the agreement that the mandate of this task force will include, in particular, the determination of common approaches towards those areas that are under control of ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and other terrorist groups that have been qualified as such by the UN Security Council.
As you probably know, during all these months we had quite an emotional discussion on who is targeting right targets – who is striking at right targets, who is striking at wrong targets. We have been proposing on many occasions to deal with this issue of – professionally now, having the agreement that the task force will determine areas taken by Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusrah. We have made a very important practical step forward in this direction.
I would also like to underscore that, for the first time in our work, the document that we have adopted today stipulates the need to cooperate and coordinate not only political and humanitarian issues, but also the military dimension of the Syrian crisis. This is a qualitatively new change in the approaches and we welcome it. We have been calling for it.
Another important thing is the clear confirmation in today’s document of the need to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions which require to stop flows of terrorists and fighters from foreign states, to stop illicit trade in oil and other smuggling. This is an important reminder because UN Security Council resolutions must be implemented in full.
It has also been underscored, the task to resume the negotiation process that was suspended against the backdrop when a part of the opposition took an unconstructive – non-constructive stance and tried to put pre-conditions – we have written down that talks should resume as soon as possible in strict compliance with the resolution 2254. That is without any ultimatums, without any pre-conditions, and talks should include a wide range of opposition forces. As you know, not all of real members of the opposition – some groups of the Syrian population have received an invitation to these talks. I believe that the UN will, as we have confirmed today, be strictly guided by principles stipulated by the UN Security resolution 2254.
The last thing I wanted to say is to support what John concluded his speech by, that the real test of our efforts will be our ability to respect our commitments and to implement what we have agreed upon. This is unfortunately a problem that arises not only in the context of the Syrian crisis we face, the impossibility, the failure to negotiate of many of our partners. I have already mentioned the attempts to misinterpret the resolution 2254. We have been facing similar approaches when we are looking at how UN Security Council resolutions are being implemented that set forth a package of measures to settle the Ukrainian crisis. And I’m not going to mention the issue of Palestine.
We have to learn, not just simply reach a compromise, but also to implement the agreements which are set forth in such compromised solutions. When attempts are being made to achieve agreements, when we start looking for reasons which justify the failure to implement decisions that have been taken, this does not benefit the cause.
And let me repeat that I totally agree with John, that the real test of – will be how we will implement what we have agreed upon today in full, not only in some components that are convenient for one group of participants, of members of the International Syria Support Group.
We have also today agreed that our group will continue the Vienna process. The number of problems is not on the decrease. If we manage to achieve progress in those areas that we have agreed upon today, I think it will help us deal with other issues arising from resolution 2254. Thank you.
John Kerry: Sergey, thank you very much. Staffan.
Staffan De Mistura: Thank you. Thank you very much. When we were convening and we had the beginning of the Geneva intra-Syrian talks, we were flooded, flooded with messages from the Syrian people. They were coming from all over, outside and inside Syria, and they were asking two things – actually, three.
The first one was: please, don’t have another conference as the others, and don’t have just a conference about talking about talks, but please give us two things. One is humanitarian access. We are human beings. We deserve to get food, water, access to medical facilities. And second, we need no more bombs, no more war. If you succeed in giving us that message we will believe in you when you convene and reconvene the talks. I think that today the ISSG, which was actually convened in order to be able to give new energy to the future talks, has addressed that. Of course, that will be tested.
Now, there are two aspects you heard. One is the humanitarian one. You can see here – and you have a list, and you will see it everywhere now – this is the list of the areas and the people who are in need, and the numbers of them.
Now the ISSG has told us, told the UN, “You are in charge in launching this initiative with our support.” We are going to do it tomorrow. We will have the first task force of ISSG, which means it is not meeting every two months. Now there is having a constant convening possibility in order to test seven locations: one of them, Deir al-Zor, which can only be reached by air dropping, others which have never been reached before.
We will test it very soon – Monday, Tuesday, not later – and see whether, in fact, we will have problems as we often have had in order to reach places. If that is the case, we go back to you again, and we will go back to the ISSG and say, “We are needing help in order to make it happen.”
The other area, of course, is the one you heard about cessation of hostilities. Not ceasefire; we are talking about cessation of hostility, which is easier in a way and much more effective in a way, because it requires just a decision. That is quite a challenge, quite a challenge for doing it in such a short period, but that’s exactly what people are asking. And we will be, of course, assisting, but that is something that the two convener countries are going to be committing themselves to make it happen.
What I can say is that this is a good testing time. Are the Syrian people going to see these outcomes? Then they will believe in future conferences and they believe in their own future. And the ISSG has shown that they are ready to commit themselves.
One point that probably we notice, many had wondered whether there was tensions in the region that would not allow some countries perhaps to be part of it, or not wanting to be part of it. We were able today to witness exactly the contrary. Saudi Arabia was there, Iran was there, everyone was there, and they were there determined to spend hours in order to discuss this. So thank you.
John Kerry: Staffan, thank you very much.
John Kirby: We’ll take three questions tonight. The first one from David Sanger, New York Times.
David Sanger: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. First a definitional issue. If any of you could just tell us a little more about how a ceasefire differs from the cessation of hostilities, I think we would be appreciative.
Mr. Secretary, the Russian airstrikes in the past few weeks, as you have mentioned, have strengthened President Assad and his allies. It’s given them virtual control of Aleppo for the first time in four years. So if this cessation of hostilities and ultimately a ceasefire works, aren’t you essentially freezing a situation that effectively gives Mr. Assad a good-sized (inaudible) Syrian state years after President Obama said that he had to leave office?
And Mr. Lavrov, could you address the humanitarian agencies who are all saying that your airstrikes are killing civilians each day, and yet your own government is saying that they are not? Are the humanitarian agencies lying about this?
John Kerry: So a ceasefire has a great many legal prerogatives and requirements. A cessation of hostilities does not – is not anticipated to, but in many ways, they have a similar effect. A ceasefire in the minds of many of the participants in this particular moment connotes something far more permanent and far more reflective of sort of an end of conflict, if you will. And it is distinctly not that. This is a pause that is dependent on the process going forward, and therefore cessation of hostilities is a much more appropriate, apt term. But the effect of ending hostile actions, the effect of ending offensive actions and permitting only defensive actions that are a matter of self-defense is the same in that regard.
I might comment also – and I think this is very important for everybody to understand – during this week, the Assad regime and the opposition need to make their decision. And both are engaged – going to be engaged in consultations. The International Syria Support Group took a different step this time from what has happened previously. In Vienna on two occasions and in New York we called for a ceasefire, we encouraged people. Today we specifically decided on a process, on a timeframe, and we all agreed to do everything that we can to meet that.
So the ISSG is engaged actively in the implementation process of the ceasefire through two task forces – one working on the humanitarian delivery, the other working directly on the modalities of the cessation of hostilities. And we will work on that. Sergey and I are chairing the ceasefire component – the ceasefire ultimately, not at this moment. But the objective is to achieve a durable, long-term ceasefire at some point in time.
Now, that will only become possible if the parties themselves engage at the table in a genuine negotiation to implement what we have once again embraced, which is the Geneva process, the Geneva communique, that calls for a transition by mutual consent with full executive authority.
Now, look, we’re doing everything in the power of diplomacy to try to bring an end to this conflict in a way that results in a unified, nonsectarian, minority-protecting, secular, whole state. That’s a complicated task. And there are many different cross currents underneath this that make it complicated. But we’re convinced that that’s the only that Syria really survives and can flourish again, and that you can make peace.
Obviously, there is a difference which has to be worked out in the context of the negotiations regarding the future of Assad. And you have to be at the table to deal with that. It doesn’t do any good for me to sit here or Sergey or other people to go on and on about what he has or hasn’t done. In the end, that’s got to be resolved in the context of the negotiation or through some other leverage.
With respect to freezing the current situation, if you will, in this sort of (inaudible) state, I disagree completely. Yes, it is true that the bombing of the last weeks and the aggressive actions of the Assad regime, together with the forces from other places and countries that have helped them has made a difference for Assad. There is no question about that. But that difference doesn’t end the war. That difference does not mean that Assad is secure or safe for the long term. It does not mean that Syria is free from the scourge of terrorist activity by Daesh and others, al-Nusrah and others. And it does not mean that the war is able to end at any time in the foreseeable future. So while, yes, there are some advantages, they are not advantages that turn this on its ear. This is still a very complicated conflict with long-term implications, with increasing levels of violence, with increasing numbers of refugees, with increasing numbers of terrorists. And it is our belief that the more successful Assad is in securing territory against the opposition, the more successful he is in creating more terrorists who threaten the region.
So we have a fundamental task ahead of us, which hopefully this process can shed some light on as to how we are going to be able to resolve the conflict of one war, which is the war against Assad, and also resolve the other war, which is the war against the terrorists, and particularly Daesh. No small undertaking, but very much front and center in all of our thinking, and in the political process that we are trying to create to find a peaceful resolution.
Sergeï Lavrov: (Via interpreter) As for the issue – as for the question that you have asked me, the difference between a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities – Resolution 2254 talks about the ceasefire only. This term is not liked by some members of the International Syria Support Group. What I’m referring to is how something that has been agreed upon should be implemented rather than try to remake the consensus that has been achieved in order to get some unilateral advantages.
We have agreed to this because it is said clearly that this is the first step towards a ceasefire. John has explained that there isn’t much difference actually, but this play in words is the same thing as statements about the existence of some kind of Plan B, statements that ground forces should be prepared. This is a slippery road. They say that it is necessary for – to defeat ISIL, but there is no doubt that this will only lead to the aggravation of the conflict. Moreover, given that many countries, especially the U.S., have the so-called Assad issue, and this Assad issue is still in the center of the attention. Although we have said clearly in the UN Security Council resolution and repeated today that only the Syrian people themselves will determine – will decide the fate of Syria. And the political process should be carried out on the basis of mutual consent of the government and the whole range of opposition.
We have said a lot about Aleppo today and we have heard accusations against Russia, which I’m not going to repeat. We hear them on the daily basis. You have mentioned some kind of humanitarian agencies, which, as you have said, keep saying every day that Russia kills civilians. I did not hear such statements from humanitarian agencies of the UN. That is why I cannot say that they are lying, but some do lie. I know that the well-respected media – I’m afraid that I might be – that I might – made a mistake. I believe this is a British media that took an interview from Ban Ki-moon and published this interview with unscrupulous versions of what he said. He never mentioned Russia. He just called for the end of any actions that lead to sufferings of civilians. The interviewer allowed himself to put into the mouth of the UN secretary-general these statements that he was saying all those things about Russia, so yes, they’re all lies, but these are not the humanitarian agencies that are lying. We are cooperating with humanitarian agencies, and they, by the way, if you talk to them and if they are not put under pressure, they will acknowledge that cooperation in dealing with humanitarian issues from government is much more constructive than that from the side of opposition.
Well, you see, many are simply trying now to – not to create the impression that they are beyond the mainstream that has now been created in media, trying to distract attention from what is important for all of us. And the most important for all of us is to prevent ISIL from implementing its criminal plans. And they’re trying to limit it by the change of regime, as if Iraq and Libya had never existed – the case of Iraq and Libya had never existed. And some still have illusions that if we change the regime, everything will be fine.
As for Aleppo, John said that he is worried by recent aggressive actions of the government. Well, if liberation of the city that has been taken by illegal armed groups can be qualified as aggression, then, well, yeah, probably. But to attack those who have taken your land is necessary – is a necessary thing. First of all, this has been done by Jabhat al-Nusrah, and also the western suburbs of Aleppo are still being controlled together with Jabhat al-Nusrah by Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham.
The leader of Jaysh al-Islam who has been eliminated, Alloush, made quite clear statements about the ideology of this movement, and I think that modern communication media will allow you to find these statements in the internet. He said that all Levant should be cleared of dirt, as he said – meaning Alawites directly, who, as he said, are even more disloyal than Christians and Jews. And he said that his brothers are Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters who he’s fighting with against common enemies. So these are the guys who are now around Aleppo, at least on the western part. On the eastern part, with our help, the government forces have already unblocked this city and according to our data those who are fleeing this area are fighters who are just trying to escape.
And let us not forget that all those who are now around Aleppo – that is Jabhat al-Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam and other more moderate groups are being provided using the same route from one place on the territory of Turkey. So this factor should also be reckoned with since the UN Security Council resolution that was adopted before the Resolution 2254 prohibits any supplies that support terrorist groups.
You probably can draw the conclusion that we do not agree on everything with John and there are differences. And that is why I would like to reiterate that to clarify these issues as well as many other issues, the key thing is to have direct – to build direct contacts not only on procedures to avoid incidents but also on cooperation in Syria between the military, the coalition led by the U.S., and the military of the Russian Federation who are working in Syria upon the initiation of the legitimate government.
So this is probably what we are going to bear in mind, and let me repeat I have no doubts that if what we have agreed upon today – and we have agreed upon contacts between military agencies – I am convinced that practical issues will be dealt with efficiently because simply saying without any foundation for five month that we are doing something wrong and refusing strongly to sit down using maps and look at facts is not an approach, it is propaganda. Propaganda was popular in Soviet times in our country. Right now we have abandoned this practice but it seems that a lot of manifestations of such trends are still present in mass media in other countries; probably we should put an end to this. And instead of pointing fingers at each other we should realize that we have a common enemy and that all the concerns about one’s image on the eve of election or with regard to some political event should be set aside. And we should deal with finding solutions to problems, which has become a truly existential problem for the human civilization, rather than just play geopolitical games.
John Kirby: Our next question will come from Vladimir Kondratiev from NTV.
Vladimir Kondratiev: (Via interpreter) Vladimir Kondratiev, NTV company. I have a question to the Russian minister. Mr. Lavrov, will there be a continuance of the operation of airspace forces of Russia in case if a ceasefire is achieved? And will the agreements that has been achieved have an influence on the volume of this operation? You’ve also mentioned contacts during the creation of the International Syria Support Group to determine jointly areas of hostilities. Does it mean that there will be a closer coordination of military agencies on the territory of Syria, which has not been the case so far? Although Russia has been interested in this.
And I have a question to the Secretary of State. Is it true that this coordination is the change of position of the United States with regard to Russia on the Syrian territory?
Sergeï Lavrov: (Via interpreter) As for the first part of the question, our documents read, and we’ve said about this, that ceasefire will not be extended to ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and other affiliated organizations that have been recognized as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council decision. That is why our airspace forces will continue working against these organizations.
As for the task force that has been set up to develop modalities and to further observe conditions of the ceasefire with the participation of the military, yes, I believe that this will help to efficiently solve many issues and to avoid any discrepancies and misunderstanding. We think this is one of the most important results of today’s meeting.
John Kerry: Quite simply, no, there is no change in the American position. The American position has always been that we need a legitimate political process and we need to make certain that there is a track that is dealing with the resolution of the government transition under the Geneva process, and we need, similarly, a concerted effort to destroy Daesh.
The fact of the commitment now to a cessation of hostilities as well as the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which means full access for humanitarian assistance, mandates by common sense that if you’re going to do that you’ve got to be able to talk about the deployment of forces, the presence of people, who can go where, how they get there, and avoid conflict, and coordinate, obviously, in ways that are effective for the achievement of the UN Security Council resolution.
And we believe that the full measure of that will be in what happens over the course of the next week – meeting the goals and succeeding in implementing this political process while simultaneously dealing with the problems of knowing what the various military factions and the various kinetic factions are doing on the ground so that one can be effective and safe.
John Kirby: The final question tonight comes from Issam Ikirmawi from BBC Arabic.
Issam Ikirmawi: Mr. Kerry, you spoke about the implementation of the – you didn’t call it ceasefire, but how much commitment have you got from Russia? Because we’ve seen over the last week or so, or two weeks, that the escalation and the air bombardment had led to the humanitarian crisis when you have about 60,000 refugees massing on the border with Turkey. So how much of a commitment has Russia given you that it will de-escalate its part in this conflict? That’s the first question.
The second part is about how much leverage does the United States have on some of the – its allies in the region in order to persuade some of these groups who are not considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. to stop their participation in the hostilities?
John Kerry: Well, I think, really, Foreign Minister Lavrov ought to be answering the question about Russia’s commitment to the cessation of hostilities. But I can just say that Russia said publicly at the first meeting of the ISSG in Vienna and at the second meeting and in New York that Russia was prepared to implement a ceasefire —
Sergeï Lavrov: And today.
John Kerry: — and again today. And Iran, likewise, said that at the first meeting of Vienna and so forth. It was not Russia or Iran who stopped a ceasefire from being adopted at the very beginning. I want to make that very, very clear. And Staffan will agree with that, and our other ISSG members know that. So Russia has articulated a willingness to do this providing that the other players are ready to enforce the full components of resolution 2254 and live by them.
Now, that’s another part of this mix. So I’m not here to vouch for anybody’s word – anybody participating in this. I said a moment ago this will be measured by what happens on the ground. This will be measured by the steps that people take in the next days. And that’s the true measurement, not the words on a piece of paper tonight – or this morning, early. And I think everybody would agree with that. So we need to make sure this is fully implemented, and everybody has a responsibility to help do that. All the members of the ISSG committed to try to do that, including Russia, including Iran. Now, you’ll be able to measure that as well as we will in the days ahead.
And you ask about leverage – it’s not a matter of – I mean, I suppose leverage here and there makes a difference, obviously. We all know that. But everybody engaged in this wants Syria to remain whole, to be peaceful, and to try to resolve this conflict. But there are different opinions within that everybody as to how that might happen or as to what outcome they’d like to see. And that’s the challenge here. I think the United States has strong relationships within the ISSG. We have been able to come up now with four separate communiques in unanimous fashion with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Russia, China, the United States – countries with different beliefs and feelings all coming to the same logical conclusion, though they have different ideas about how the outcome might unfold at this moment. But the best we can do is continue to work in a collegiate fashion. I don’t think it’s as much a matter of leverage as it is a matter of common sense about how you end this war and whether one can end this war.
As I’ve said previously, it is my belief and the belief of the majority of the members of this group that there will not be peace in Syria if Assad is determined to stay there and lead the country. That’s our belief. Other people have a different point of view. But we don’t believe he can make peace because we don’t think that certain countries and certain players involved in this will stop fighting until there is a legitimate transition, which is what was decided in 2012. It’s now 2016. In 2012, the UN and the countries that came together adopted the fundamental framework of what we’re trying to do, which is a transition which allows the people of Syria to decide the future without coercion, without – with full participation. And that’s what has been adopted in this process. So if everybody honors this process, hopefully there can be a transformation. If they don’t, there will be continued war.
You want to speak to —
Sergeï Lavrov: (Via interpreter) Since John said that it will be better for me to answer the first question, I will just reconfirm what we’ve already told you. You can read this in the document that was adopted today. To be more exact, that is that ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and other terrorist groups that have been recognized as such by the UN Security Council do not fit the conditions of ceasefire. That is why as we – and as far as I understand, the U.S.-led coalition will continue fighting these groups.
The most important goal is to make this ceasefire (inaudible) agreement between the government and the opposition – it was said directly, it was not, by the way, my initiative or John’s initiative. It was the initiative of one delegation which John mentioned in a different context. It was written down that the ceasefire could not be started immediately, it would start in a week if both the government and opposition elaborate all the necessary measures. Well, yes, probably some influence – we will have to put some influence on Syrian sides and I hope that all will put this influence both on government and on various groups and opposition. But let me repeat that terrorists are beyond the ceasefire.
As for adherence to agreements, our commitment, I would really like this commitment to be universal. I’ve already said that I agree with John that the best measure of our efficiency will be how the decisions that have been made will be implemented. So in 2012 we adopted the Geneva communique. I’ve already reminded that right after this communique was adopted we convinced Assad’s government to agree to work on its bases, and the opposition said that they would not work on this, that they were not satisfied with it. We brought this Geneva communique to the Security Council. Our Western partners rejected to adopt it and it took us more than a year before the UN Security Council finally adopted this communique, and I don’t want to look like someone who is trying to appease someone. But only when John took the position of the Secretary of State we felt the wish to reanimate, to rehabilitate these agreements that had been concluded before John came to his office.
But let us not forget that the Geneva communique says that the principle of solving political problems in Syria is the agreement on transition provisions on the basis of mutual consent between the government and the whole range of the opposition. So if we are talking about commitments, about adherence to agreements, all these should be reconfirmed in an integrated manner without emphasizing only just one word that there should be, for example, transition – meaning the change of regime by it. And this transition should be on the mutual consent between the government and the wide range of opposition. This thing is usually kept silent about. They believe that, and a delegation of opposition can be set up, which represents only a part of foreign opponents of the regime. Others can be turned into consultants.
This will not work and I’m convinced that this very clear mandate that is contained in the Geneva communique and in the resolution 2254 will be respected by our UN colleagues who play the central role in the political process.
John Kirby: Thank you. That concludes tonight’s press conference.