Remarks to the press by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UN Security Council consultations on the situation in Syria
V.Churkin: For me it was very important that Staffan de Mistura, as he was speaking to us from Geneva, was basically reporting live about the ongoing talks between the Russian and American military in Geneva on the situation in Aleppo and larger issues of our cooperation. You know that there is a Russian humanitarian initiative on Aleppo. We want to make sure that humanitarian assistance can go into Aleppo at all times including through Castello Road. This is something which is being now discussed very practically in Geneva.
Other than that, let me just say that I was encouraged to hear that Staffan de Mistura is planning to reconvene talks in late August, and I very strongly called on all those who have influence on the opposition to make sure they come prepared this time, they need to have a serious position and need to be able to talk seriously about the future of Syria.
Q: Do you think that fighting in Aleppo is ruining prospect for these talks though?
V.Churkin: I don’t think so. I think Staffan de Mistura also shares this position because as usual there are some members of the Council which keep setting up all sorts of preconditions for the resumption of the talks. What he said, I think, was very sensible. The lower the level of violence the better it is for the talks. We share this approach, but there must be no preconditions for the talks.
Q: Do you still support the inclusion of the Kurds in the talks?
V.Churkin: Yes, we absolutely do.
Q: So there could be a Russian-US agreement on delivery of aid?
V.Churkin: Yes, this is what we are looking at.
Q: Are you getting close to a 48 hour humanitarian truce?
V.Churkin: You know we would be prepared to support that. There is a strange situation. Two weeks ago our British colleagues proposed a press-statement on 48 hour humanitarian cease-fire. We said we support that, but we need to add that that does not apply to terrorists, because the terms of cessation of hostilities is that you must continue fighting the terrorists. So our British colleagues keep thinking about the addition of a reference to keeping on fighting terrorists in the course of cessation of hostilities. But I think that this is also what may be discussed now between the Russian and American military. After all those were our two countries who announced the cessation of hostilities, so it’s also up to them to decide how to handle things as a practical matter on the ground.
Q: So, if there’s no calm in the fighting in Aleppo, do you think the talks can go ahead later this month?
V.Churkin: First of all I do hope that the situation in and around Aleppo will improve, but again we do not believe that there need to be any preconditions. Staffan de Mistura said very clearly that he doesn’t believe in preconditions and one of the reasons is that those who do not want to have any talks may be trying to stir trouble every time the talks are about to happen. But to my mind the most important thing is finally to have those who believe to be serious opposition figures to come to the negotiating table seriously, to sit at the same table with the Syrian Government and to start discussing specifically what needs to be done to end the conflict. Staffan de Mistura has worked hard, he produced certain papers as the basis of those negotiations. We believe they are good starting points for the parties to get together and to start discussing the arrangements, because it’s up to the Syrians ultimately to settle the conflict themselves.
Q: Do you see there is still a big gap between your position and the US position on who represents the opposition?
V.Churkin: There are certain opposition groups. We keep saying that we believe that the Syrian Kurds must be involved immediately, be in the room also at the negotiations, so far Staffan de Mistura has not yet been able to invite them. Maybe things will change. We hope they might, because Turkey needs to understand that including the Kurds in the discussion is one of the things which should be important for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. And Turkey has a vested interest in the territorial integrity of Syria. There are some complicating factors in the mind of the people in Ankara, but this is something which we believe should be done as quickly as possible. But also there are well-known opposition groups and so far the big problem was that the so-called Supreme Negotiating Committee or whatever they call themselves - they were coming to the talks without saying anything. They were just saying “Assad must go” - and this is not a negotiating position.