7774th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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21-Sep-2016 03:11:14
Secretary-General of the United Nations tells the Security Council “the Syrian tragedy shames us all” at the 7774th meeting.

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BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said “the Syrian tragedy shames us all”. The international community’s collective failure should haunt every member of the Council, given that well over 300,000 Syrians had been killed, half of the country’s population had been uprooted and much of its infrastructure lay in ruins. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was exploiting the chaos and neighbouring countries were hosting millions of refugees, while many had lost their lives trying to reach Europe. Forces unleashed by the conflict were destabilizing the region, as terrorist attacks reached targets around the world. Flagrant violations of global norms of humanitarian law included indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, the use of medieval siege tactics and the weaponization of hunger, the use of chemical weapons and the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of men, women and children in appalling conditions who were systematically subjected to unspeakable torture. Meanwhile, foreign fighters and arms flowed to all sides, he noted.

That scenario defied Council resolutions, “yet we know international unity can make a difference”, he said. Council unity and resolve had led to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, aid had been delivered to millions and the formation of the International Syria Support Group had provided fresh momentum to the search for a settlement and paved the way for Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). However, recent events, such as the attack on a United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy two days earlier, were an outrage. Determination to revive the ceasefire was critical, he said, urging all to exert their influence to ensure an open road to political talks. Moving forward, the intra-Syrian negotiations must focus on a viable transition, he said, adding that he had asked his Special Envoy to work intensively towards convening formal negotiations as soon as possible.

Calling upon the Security Council to fully support his efforts, he emphasized, however, that a transition was not an end in itself and that actions must be taken to ensure the continuation and reform of State institutions, as well as accountability for perpetrators of violations of human rights and international law. He reiterated his call for the Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. “We are at a make-or-break moment,” he said. “I challenge everyone to use their influence now to restore a cessation of hostilities, enable humanitarian assistance everywhere it is needed and support the United Nations in charting a political path for the Syrians to negotiate a way out of the hell in which they are trapped. You have now no higher responsibility in your service as members of the United Nations Security Council.”

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said he was ready to present a draft framework to all parties as a starting point for continued negotiations. The United Nations had done its due diligence in order to understand the needs and fears of all sides, having engaged extensively with stakeholders and taken numerous steps, he said. Despite the horrors on the ground, some points of convergence had emerged from the intra-Syrian talks on framing a transition, which could demonstrate how close all sides were on what the country would look like as a unified, sectarian State in which fundamental freedoms were enshrined and protected by a new constitution. During round three of the intra-Syrian talks, further commonality had been outlined, including issues to be addressed moving forward.

He said that, as soon as the talks resumed, he would heed the Secretary-General’s request to present the draft framework. Its elements included the recognition that only a Syria-owned process could end the conflict, with a view to drafting a new constitution, holding free and fair elections and reforming State institutions. A cessation of hostilities was critical. “It looks like a dream, but that’s the plan,” he said. “And if we don’t do that, it will be impossible to get there.” To move forward, the Government of Syria would need to understand that a devolution of power was needed, not the absorption of parties into the current system. Having taken input from all the Syrian parties, he appealed to all Council members to heed the Secretary-General’s calls. If peace was to be made, a transition would be needed alongside genuine negotiations. “We cannot ignore the gorilla in the room,” he said, noting that none of the elements cited could occur without respect for the 9 September agreement.


JOHN KEY, Prime Minister of New Zealand and Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing the critical need to rewrite the narrative of failure and help to set Syria on a path towards peace. No one would benefit from a continuation of the conflict, including the Government of Syria, which bore responsibility for starting the war, and those whose support was allowing the violence to continue. Syrians must reach agreement on their future, but it was clear that they could not end the war on their own. While the pathway was set out in resolution 2254 (2015), which had established a timetable, it had yet to be implemented, he noted. Today, everyone must commit to restoring the cessation of hostilities, delivering aid and restarting political talks.

The recent arrangement between the United States and the Russian Federation represented the best hope, he said, encouraging the two nations to demonstrate sustained leadership. The following days would be critical in moving forward. He urged the Syrian parties to abide by the arrangement, with the Council’s support. Those wielding influence over the parties and the Government of Syria — particularly the United States, Russian Federation, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — must emphasize that a political solution was the only way out of the conflict, he said, calling on those countries to work together to restore the cessation of hostilities over the coming days. “Advancing a political solution must be the priority in the weeks ahead,” he emphasized. “The people of Syria deserve this much.”

SERGEY LAVROV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the crises in the Middle East were attributable to inter-ethnic conflict, terrorism and outside interference, among other causes. The Russian Federation remained convinced that there was no alternative to an inclusive political settlement in Syria, without preconditions. It had agreed with the United States on a number of points regarding how to achieve such a settlement through the International Syria Support Group over the past months, although the details had not been made public. The priority was to be able to differentiate terrorist groups from others and to prevent terrorists from escaping justice through association with those other groups, he said.

As per the recent cessation-of-hostilities agreement, Government forces had begun withdrawing from key roads to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance, he said, adding however, that there had been no reciprocation from opposition forces. It was clear who was complying with the agreement and who was not, he said, noting that his Government had presented more than 300 violations of the cessation of hostilities by opposition forces which had signed on to the agreement. In addition, after the air strike on Deir ez-Zor, ISIL had immediately intensified its attacks, he noted. That kind of coincidence required further investigation. Further research on opposition groups was needed, because some of those included in the negotiations had not repudiated their association with known terrorist organizations.

The time had come to revisit the categorization of opposition groups, he said, expressing hope that no one would expect terrorists and those cooperating with them to respect the cessation of hostilities while they attacked civilians. All armed opposition groups must provide guarantees that they would abide by all provisions of future cessations of hostilities. Simultaneous steps by all parties involved in the conflict were needed, he said. There could be no more unilateral pauses, since Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and other groups had used such pauses to consolidate their positions. The priority was the resumption of the intra-Syrian dialogue to end the crisis, in order to preserve Syria as a unified State. The Russian Federation supported the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard, he said. Attempts to put forward preconditions and other efforts to sabotage resolution 2254 (2015) were unacceptable, he emphasized, adding that his country would work with everyone — including the Government and opposition forces — for the resumption of dialogue.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State of the United States, said in regard to the Russian Federation’s opposition to preconditions that a ceasefire had been achieved four times without preconditions, but the agreements had been “shredded” by spoilers who did not want them to succeed. Asking how bombing hospitals and children, and using chlorine gas could be defended, he emphasized that obfuscation was not acceptable. There was need for a united Syria in which the people could choose their own leadership, yet certain parties and their proxies were preventing the realization of that goal. Facts must be respected, including the known facts about violations of the cessation of hostilities, such as the bombing of hospitals and the humanitarian convoy in areas where only Syrian and Russian aircraft had been present.

While describing the 17 September coalition attack as “a terrible accident”, he pointed out that it had been acknowledged immediately. It had also been “a very different thing” from attacking an obvious humanitarian convoy. Russian officials had presented various explanations — as well as denials — for the latter attack, none of which were credible and all of which had been contradicted by eyewitnesses. Stressing the need to restore credibility to the process, he said the primary question was not what was known, but what was to be done. There was need for a real ceasefire that would allow the Syrian people to breathe. While it was true that association with Nusrah Front was unacceptable, spoilers could not be allowed to determine the path ahead, which remained one of diplomacy. There was need to renew the cessation of hostilities – excluding only ISIL and Nusrah Front – accompanied by unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance.

After seven days of such a ceasefire, coordinated action with the Russian Federation against ISIL and Nusrah Front was planned, he said, adding that air action against the legitimate opposition must be halted at the same time. A prohibition on flying was needed to prevent Syria from going after civilian targets under the pretext of attacking terrorists. However, the Geneva plan still represented the best way forward, he said, even if the Assad regime, on one side, and Nusrah Front on the other, remained spoilers. To get the process back on track and restore credibility, the United States proposed the immediate grounding of all aircraft in key areas and allowing humanitarian assistance to flow. He urged the Council not to give up on resolving the crisis and called upon all parties in Syria, and the entire international community, to cooperate with the Geneva plan and desist from supporting any actions that prevented progress.

ABDEL FATTAH AL SISI, President of Egypt, said that a political solution remained evasive, yet a breeding ground for terrorism had been sown. Highlighting flaws in previous attempts to resolve the crisis in Syria, he said the focus had been erroneously placed on the symptoms rather than the causes. The core problem was the absence of a just political solution that addressed the aspirations of Syrians. The 9 September agreement was not enough and it depended on the immediate continuation of negotiations, he said, calling upon the Special Envoy to bolster efforts to that end. Terrorist organizations must also be tackled, he said, emphasizing that time was of essence.

Resolution 2254 (2015) had proven that it was possible to find common ground, he said, adding that, given political will, such commonalities could be reached swiftly. A Syrian-led solution to the crisis must and could be found. The road ahead was clear and implementation of the recent agreement should trigger the end of hostilities. For its own part, Egypt had delivered aid in order to help besieged populations in Syrian towns, he said. History taught that no ceasefire arrangement had succeeded without negotiations for a political process, he said, expressing support for respecting the aspirations of the Syrian people. Each day, more blood would be spilled and action must be taken to restore hope to the people and immediately tackle the root causes of the conflict.

PETRO POROSHENKO, President of Ukraine, said the Syrian Government bore full responsibility for the suffering of its people. The “barbaric attack” on a humanitarian convoy in Aleppo following the Government’s withdrawal from the ceasefire was clear proof of a culture of impunity. That lack of accountability was a stain on the Council, he said, adding that Russian support for the Assad regime had contributed significantly to the disastrous status quo and to the recurrent waves of violence. He suggested that the Russian Federation’s policy followed the pattern of its action in Ukraine: “Stir up hostilities, raise the stakes and then offer yourself as mediator in the settlement process. In the meantime, grab ground and secure your position for imposing a solution.”

He said the Security Council’s inaction in preventing Russian aggression in his country had allowed Moscow to use Crimea as a base for assets employed against Syria. All that demonstrated the need for Security Council reform. Condemning violations of international law in Syria, including attacks on civilians and denial of humanitarian aid, he called for those responsible to be brought to justice. International law must be upheld everywhere at all times and by all, he affirmed. The parties in Syria must meet their obligations, adhere to the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, allow unhindered humanitarian access and participate in serious negotiations on a political transition. Only by such actions could the plight of the Syrian people be alleviated, he emphasized.

MACKY SALL, President of Senegal, said the grave humanitarian crisis — marked by hundreds of thousands of deaths, massive displacement and a spreading threat of terrorism throughout the region and beyond — must be ended by a united effort to build peace through a negotiated solution. Ceasefires, even though they had been violated in the past, could indeed help the Council to fulfil its mission of ensuring international security. Citing an African proverb, he said that when two elephants fought, it was the grass that suffered.

Moving forward, Council reform would be critical, he said, highlighting the need to address the wider ramifications of the current crisis, from refugee flows into Europe to waves of terrorist attacks across Northern Africa. The Council needed more tools to discharge its mandate, he said, adding that Senegal supported the establishment of a joint command centre to fight terrorism. Peace and a political solution in Syria would be possible, he said, calling for a surge in the Russian Federation-United States dialogue to that end.

SHINZŌ ABE, Prime Minister of Japan, said the Council must strongly promote the transition to a political process that would lead to an end to the violence and improved humanitarian access. Calling on the international community and stakeholders to abide by Council resolutions, he said that his country had provided non-military assistance and supported efforts to reach a political settlement with the goal of building societies resilient to violent extremism. Providing an overview of such initiatives, he said Japan had dedicated more than $2 billion to humanitarian aid, health and education for Syrians inside and outside the country. Yet, the success of those efforts would depend on how the current situation was resolved, he said, pledging Japan’s determination to work on the matter in a responsible manner.

AHMAD ZAHID BIN HAMIDI, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, said the Council must remain resolute in the face of heinous crimes and persistent violence on the ground, continuing to strive for unity and coherence in purpose and action. The Council could never be sidelined and had a central role to play. Despite recent setbacks, the 9 September agreement represented the latest concrete effort towards halting the violence and laying the groundwork for a credible and inclusive political process on the future of Syria. Particular attention must be paid to protecting children, he emphasized, strongly demanding that the parties to the conflict respect international law, including by providing unfettered humanitarian access and civilian protection. Resolution 2254 (2015) must guide the political process alongside the 9 September agreement, and all partners and stakeholders must support the way forward, as outlined by the Special Envoy, he said, emphasizing the need to redoubled efforts to achieve a durable political solution.

DELCY ELOÍNA RODRÍGUEZ GÓMEZ, Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, decried the humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis, saying the international community had become inured to the suffering in that country, caused by the interference of international parties who had sought to overthrow a legitimate Government. The enormous lies put forward were comparable to the explanations for the invasion of Iraq. The international community could not continue to be subjected to such lies, she said, emphasizing that citizens around the globe were tired of attempts by certain Powers to control the world. Those attempts had had devastating consequences, she said, noting that the 17 September attack on Syria’s army had allowed the advance of terrorists. It was easy to say mistakes had been made, but they had cost thousands of lives, and those responsible should be punished. The Syrian people had a right to peace and development, she said, pledging to join any initiative that would bring about a peaceful solution based on respect for the country’s sovereignty and the wishes of its people.

RODOLFO NIN NOVOA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, noted that the Council had stressed for five years the need to end the suffering and bring about a political solution to the Syrian crisis. An urgent response was needed, he said, stressing that differences must be set aside. All parties must shoulder their responsibilities under international law. Unfortunately, that had not yet happened. Following the adoption of a resolution specifying a ban on the bombing of hospitals, they continued to be attacked. He condemned the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, as well as the actions of terrorist groups. A renewed commitment to ending the financing of terrorist groups and effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty was needed to deter their activities. Dialogue among the parties must resume in Syria, leading to a process that would allow Syrians to determine their own future, he said. For that to happen, strict compliance with the cessation of hostilities was critical, as was unfettered provision of humanitarian assistance. The plight of Syria’s people was at stake, and the international community must not fail them, he stressed.
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