Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco, for your briefing. I will begin on a welcome, even hopeful, note. King Abdullah and the Jordanian government have taken a bold step and shown tremendous leadership in bringing the parties together for direct meetings in coordination with the Quartet. These discussions are showing promise, and we are encouraged that the parties have already met several times this month in Amman. We believe strongly that the Council’s focus should be to offer support to the Jordanian effort and to urge the parties to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Last Wednesday, this Council discussed the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in southern Israel, and the discussion today has already focused a great deal on counterproductive actions taken by both sides. I want to encourage my colleagues on the Council to join in encouraging the parties to refrain from unhelpful actions and to promote an environment that is conducive to progress. We join in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, both incitement to violence and continued terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel, including rocket attacks from Gaza. We also reiterate our ongoing concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and our support for increased measures to ensure the safety and well-being of Gazans. We likewise urge Israel to continue and to step up its efforts to deter, confront, and prosecute anti-Palestinian violence and extremist hate crimes. Let me also reiterate that we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.
Mr. President, we should not lose sight of our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting resolution to the conflict. Last year, in May, President Obama laid out his vision for a lasting peace, which will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. President Obama reiterated this goal in his speech before the General Assembly in September. He reaffirmed the basis for successful negotiations, which is well known to all of us: Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security, and Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state. In an effort to operationalize the President’s vision, the Quartet issued on September 23 a statement calling on the parties “to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.” The statement, taken as a whole, presents a robust framework for resuming direct negotiations between the parties.
We are now at a critical juncture. The government of Jordan deserves our gratitude for facilitating reengagement by the parties. With Jordan and the Quartet’s help, the parties have begun a difficult, but necessary, process. It is imperative that we do everything we can to contribute to the success of this pathway.
I will turn now to Syria. The situation there continues to deteriorate dramatically. Despite the presence of Arab League monitors, the Assad regime is ignoring its commitments to the Arab League plan, including by failing to end all acts of violence and to protect Syrian civilians. Scores of civilians are killed every day. Thousands of political detainees remain incarcerated across the country, many at serious risk of torture. As a result of the regime’s failure to fulfill the requirements of the Arab League plan, there are more and more calls from the region for Security Council involvement. On Sunday, in Cairo, the Arab League approved a resolution that calls for Assad to hand over powers to his vice president in order to form a unity government, enabling a political transition to begin in Syria. We welcome the Arab League’s continued leadership and efforts to facilitate a transition and broker a political solution to the more than 10 months of brutality by the Assad regime. We believe it is essential that the international community work together to support a stable transition, and we commend the Arab League for putting forth a transition plan.
This Council should fully support the Arab League’s efforts to broker an end to the bloodshed and a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria.
The United States has been very clear in our approach to the crisis in Syria. We have long said that Assad, who has shunned all opportunities to institute real reforms addressing basic human rights issues, needs to step aside and let a peaceful transition in Syria occur. We first imposed sanctions on the Assad regime and its enablers last spring and have increased them as Assad has refused to end the violence. Many others in the international community have enacted similar measures. The European Union approved yet more sanctions yesterday, and sanctions have been part of the Arab League’s initiative since last November. It is long past time that this Council pass a strong resolution that supports the Arab League’s efforts to end the crisis and restore peace to Syria.
We call again on the Syrian government to permit access to the Commission of Inquiry created by the UN Human Rights Council in August.
The United States fully supports the Syrian people’s demands for a democratic, representative, and inclusive government that respects human rights and provides equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of sect, ethnicity or gender. The United States continues to call on the opposition to refrain from violence while recognizing that exercising such restraint becomes more and more difficult as the regime ratchets up its repression. The Arab League’s Secretary General stated very clearly in his report this week, and I quote, “the opposition had to carry arms in response to the excessive use of force by the Syrian government to counter protests; the use of oppression, detentions, and torture; and violations of human rights by security agencies.” We hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for the worsening cycle of violence.
Mr. President, we are concerned by recent reports of shipments of arms and munitions to the Syrian government. We call on supplier countries to voluntarily halt arms transfers to the regime. And, we encourage all nations to join the widening effort to stop the flow of weapons to the Assad regime.
Mr. President, I will conclude with the situation in Lebanon. We remain committed to the full implementation of Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701 and urge the Government of Lebanon to adhere to these and other international obligations and commitments, including with respect to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. We condemn the terrorist attack against UNIFIL’s peacekeepers on December 9, the third such attack in less than a year. The United States calls on the Government of Lebanon to investigate these incidents and bring those responsible to justice. We welcome the Secretary-General’s recent visit to Lebanon, including his remarks on the importance of disarming Hizballah, an international obligation established by resolutions 1559 and 1701. The United States continues to support the Lebanese Armed Forces and recognizes the critical role that they and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon play in maintaining stability throughout Lebanon. We thank Major General Asarta for his leadership during his tenure and welcome incoming UNIFIL Force Commander Brigadier General Serra.
Thank you, Mr. President.