Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco, for your briefing. Mr. President, we face a grave and growing threat to international peace and security in Syria today. The Syrian people have moved the world with their aspirations for democracy and universal human rights. But the Asad regime has met their calls for change with cruelty and contempt. Asad has deliberately chosen to use repression and force against unarmed civilians. Thousands of innocent people have already been killed in cold blood, and countless more have been wounded, scarred, and maimed. The Asad regime’s crackdown has grown even bloodier in recent days, and anyone who still doubts the regime’s true character has only to look at the havoc and destruction it has unleashed in the streets of Hama and Deir al-Zour.
Last week, the Security Council finally came together to speak out clearly. Asad has plain international obligations to meet. He must immediately end the crackdown, stop using force against civilians, fully respect the Syrian people’s human rights, and comply with international law. He must heed the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations and concerns and let them assemble freely, speak out without fear of reprisal, and exercise their fundamental freedoms. He must permit full and unfettered access to humanitarian agencies and workers and cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In failing to do so, Asad is not just ignoring the will of his own citizens. He is not just ignoring urgent calls to end the bloodshed from the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, regional leaders from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, and religious leaders such as the head of al-Azhar. He is also ignoring the tide of history. All across the Middle East and North Africa, brave men and women are standing up for the rights that all of us have but not all of us can exercise. Regimes that meet peaceful and legitimate demands with tanks, guns, and clubs will themselves lose all legitimacy.
The crisis in Syria has already rippled across the region. Refugees fleeing the Asad regime’s onslaught are huddled in Turkey. The Syrian government has risked wider violence by trying to provoke distractions along its frontiers with its neighbors. Asad has breached the most basic rules of diplomacy by sending thugs to attack diplomatic missions. And the Asad regime’s policies of repression and deep reliance on Iran increasingly risk dangerous spillovers of sectarian and other tensions into neighboring nations. We are particularly concerned by the continued flow of arms to Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu said Friday that Turkey had intercepted a shipment of arms from Iran to Syria. We urge all states not to supply the Syrian regime with the arms it will surely turn on its own citizens.
The United States is working together with its international partners to bring greater pressure to bear on the Syrian regime through further coordinated diplomatic and financial measures. We are also working with our partners to stem the flow of the weapons and ammunition that Syrian security forces, under Asad’s authority, continue to use against peaceful protestors. Our Ambassador remains in Syria, where he will continue to speak out against the gross abuses being committed by the regime-and challenge the propaganda it continues to peddle even as it denies access to journalists, human rights groups, and international fact-finding missions.
Mr. President, we now face a growing crisis because of a handful of ruthless people who value their grip on power more than the lives of the Syrian people. Over and over again, Asad has refused to respond to the legitimate aspirations of ordinary Syrians. Over and over again, he has relied on torture, corruption, and terror rather than embracing democracy, liberty, and reform. Through his own actions and choices, Asad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past. The brave people of Syria will determine their country’s future, and Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition is complete.
We commend the Secretary-General for his forthright denunciation of the regime’s violence and his plain conversation last weekend with Asad. We would like to see the UN take further steps to help resolve this crisis, including perhaps sending a senior UN official to Damascus. We support the idea of a briefing by the High Commission for Human Rights, and we remain determined to work with our fellow Security Council members to ensure that this Council meets its responsibilities.