Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. I will first read out the discussion we had this morning in consultations on Iraq and then turn to the topic of Syria.
The Security Council met today to discuss the situation in Iraq and heard briefings from SRSG Kobler and, of course, in the open chamber, from Iraqi Perm Rep al-Bayati. The briefings underscored the notable regional achievements that have occurred in Iraq, in particular the significance of Iraq hosting the recent Arab League Summit for the first time in two decades, and its continuing political and security challenges. The briefings and subsequent Council discussion highlighted the recent steps taken to foster better relations between Iraq and Kuwait, such as a settlement on the Kuwaiti Airlines issue, Iraq’s payment to the UN Iraq-Kuwaiti boundary maintenance project, and the announcement that the Joint Ministerial meetings will take place in Baghdad at the end of April. Council members expressed strong support for the increasingly positive relations between Iraq and Kuwait, including for SRSG Kobler’s sustained efforts in this area.
SRSG Kobler and Council members noted the importance for Iraq to resolve political differences and to address the concerns of all political blocs in an inclusive forum. SRSG Kobler commended the Government of Iraq’s efforts, with UN support, to find a peaceful and durable solution to the situation in Camp Ashraf and emphasized the need for member states to accept eligible candidates for resettlement.
In conclusion, Council members will continue to closely monitor the political situation in Iraq with the hope that there will be a solution representing the interests of all Iraqis, consistent with Iraq’s constitution and laws.
Now, let me turn to the subject of Syria.
As you know, members of the Security Council discussed the letter received this morning from Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States Kofi Annan regarding the status of his plan for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. Council members had the opportunity to ask questions regarding the letter of Mr. Annan’s deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno. The members of the Security Council reiterated the need to implement in full its Presidential Statements of March 21th and April 5th. The members of the Council underscored, in particular, the following two elements of the Joint Special Envoy’s letter, which I will paraphrase:
The first is the following: the Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course. It’s essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the Government forces throughout the country, as called upon by the Six-Point Plan, and that items (a), (b) and (c) of paragraph 2 of the Six-Point Plan are fully implemented to enable the cessation of hostilities—cessation of armed violence—on 12 April. The members of the Council therefore echoed the Envoy’s call to urge the opposition also to fulfil their commitments to the Six-Point Plan and give no excuse for the Government to renege on its commitments. And they noted the clear declarations coming from the opposition, which the envoy characterized as encouraging in this respect.
The second point the Council wanted to underscore is their deep concern at the state of implementation of the Syrian Government’s immediate obligations and stressed the importance that the parties meet the deadline of 12 April. As the envoy said, the cessation of violence in all its forms is a first but essential step. It must not be delayed by new conditions. Violence must stop now.
The members of the Security Council furthermore reaffirmed their support to Joint Special Envoy Annan and his mission and said that they look forward to hearing from Mr. Annan again on April 12. I’m happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: Yes, Madame President, is the new deadline of April 12th—does it put both the government and the opposition on equal footing in terms of expectations of reversing thus what was in the plan? And did Kofi Annan change the goalposts by skipping over the 10th of April and going straight to the 6am 12 April deadline?
Ambassador Rice: No, I do not see this as a new deadline. The deadline for the government to meet its obligations under the second point (a), (b), and (c), as the Joint Special Envoy’s letter reaffirmed, was today. That has not occurred. And obviously members of the Council are unified in their grave concern that this deadline has passed and the violence has not only continued but, over the last 10 days, has intensified.
What Joint Special Envoy Annan has said is that, in his view, there is still an opportunity for the government to fulfill its commitments and that if it does so before the 12th, there is still an opportunity for there to be a cessation of violence. It is not a new deadline. The deadline has passed for the government’s initial steps. Those commitments have not been fulfilled. The opposition has generously indicated that, nonetheless, it is prepared still—were the government to fulfil its steps—to nonetheless meet its commitments as of the 12th, and I think that the letter was a reflection of those realities.
Reporter: Ambassador, on a different issue, can you please tell us—-
Ambassador Rice: Can we stay on Syria for a second? I suspect there will be other questions on Syria and then we can change topics.
Reporter: The letter seems to say that on April 8th the Asad government asked Kofi Annan to get commitments from regional countries to stop the funding of the opposition, but it doesn’t really say what was done on that. What was the position? Was there any discussion in the Council of this idea of regional countries openly saying they would fund the Free Syrian Army? And also, there’s this mention of the General Mood—substantial differences emerged during his time there. Was there any Q and A with Mr. Guehenno? What can we say about these differences, and what do they foretell for an observer mission?
Ambassador Rice: Well, with respect to the additional conditions that the government announced on the 8th, there was general discussion of the additional conditions, and the letter of the envoy as well as the discussion in the Council made clear that nobody is prepared to contemplate or give validity to any additional conditions. There was no specific discussion of the details of those conditions. With respect to the technical assessment mission, the technical assessment mission—or technical mission—of General Mood, there was a bit of discussion about it in the Q and A, and Jean-Marie Guehenno indicated that, at a certain stage, the Government and its engagements with the Mood team were essentially reflecting some of the conditions that they had said publicly, which were not consistent with the envoy’s plan and the Six Point Plan endorsed by the Security Council; therefore, it became difficult to continue to productively proceed along those lines. I think we’ll get a fuller understanding of those challenges and what next steps, if any, are contemplated with the technical team on the 12th when Kofi Annan will have had an opportunity to debrief with his team leadership.
Reporter: Madame President, there has been a lot of travelling to Tehran at the moment and talking about—
concerning the Syria crisis. The Turks, before, went there, and tomorrow Kofi Annan will be in Tehran. What do you expect concerning the crisis in Syria? What can come out of this? And then I would like to know: the Security Council is still calling this a crisis. Why we are not calling it a civil war?
Ambassador Rice: Well, first of all, I’m not going to try to speak for Joint Special Envoy Annan and characterize his intentions in Iran. I don’t know what to expect, and we will look to hear from him on Thursday as to what he brings back. Really, I don’t have anything of substance to add on that point. Your second…
Reporter: The second is, you just called this a crisis—the Syrian Crisis. Why we are not calling it a civil war?
Ambassador Rice: Well, it is indeed a crisis. It is a crisis that has now cost the lives of an estimated 9,000 people. This is—we need to be clear what this was and how it began. This began as Syrian civilians peacefully protesting, exercising their universally accepted rights to peacefully demonstrate and seek to influence the nature of the government that they must live under. That, over the course of a year, has been met by the most brutal and escalating violence, and over the course of recent months, having been brutally assaulted, these civilians have taken up—some of them and others who were defectors from the military taken up—weapons in self defense. And so there is now a mixed character, obviously, to what has transpired. There are those fighting in self defense. There are those that continue to protest peacefully. But the reality is whatever we choose to call it, we face a moment of truth coming up.
The U.S. view is that it is outrageous, but by no means unexpected or surprising, that the government has yet again made commitments and broken them—and made commitments that are now backed by the entirety of the international community in the form of Special Envoy Annan’s Six Point Plan. It’s the U.S. view that we face very soon a moment of truth where, if in fact the Government continues to fail to fulfill its obligations, which it gives every indication it will continue to do, the international community and this Council, which have all backed up the Annan plan in its entirety, will have to determine whether they remain unified in support of Joint Special Envoy Annan, his plan, the plan that we as a Council have adopted, which puts the onus on the Syrian government to take the essential, initial steps. And whether we are prepared, if there is continued non-compliance, to take the logical next step, which is to increase the pressure on the Asad regime through collective action. And frankly, if indeed we are, then there will be additional pressure on the Asad regime consistent with the path that this Council is walking down. If not, then it looks quite obvious that what is increasingly becoming a crisis—a violent crisis—will potentially devolve, quite regrettably, into full-scale civil war with all of the consequences that that entails for the people of Syria, for neighboring countries, and the wider international community.
Reporter: Ambassador, what do you foresee to be the reaction of the Security Council in case North Korea launches a missile? And did you discuss this with other members of the Security Council?
Ambassador Rice: First of all, we obviously have discussed it informally with other members of the Security Council, both in New York and Seoul and other capitals over the previous weeks. It is clear that any launch by North Korea using ballistic missile technology, which is what this is, would be a blatant violation of Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. We think that as a consequence of that, should it occur, the Council will need to convene and to respond credibly. There is no disagreement among members of the Council that this is a provocative act and an act that the North Koreans should refrain from undertaking. And if they don’t, it would be them that are increasingly isolated—they that will lose, as they have in the past, when they have taken steps that are ill-conceived, provocative, and in violation of their international obligations.