What a full day. I have a press statement to read and then I will provide a readout of our discussions on Sudan and South Sudan, as well as on Syria, and take a few questions. Obviously this morning we had a full discussion in the Council with Under-Secretary-General Bachelet and Under-Secretary-General Ladsous on women peace and security—our semi-annual discussion of that topic—and I won’t dwell on that since you heard their briefings in the open chamber. Let me begin with the press statement.
The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attack on an African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol in West Darfur on 20 April, in which four peacekeepers were wounded, one of whom subsequently died as a result of injuries sustained in the attack.
The members of the Security Council expressed their condolences to the family of the peacekeeper killed in the attack, as well as to the Government of Togo. They called on the Government of Sudan to bring the perpetrators to justice and stressed that there must be an end to impunity for those who attack peacekeepers.
The members of the Security Council reiterated their full support for UNAMID and called on all parties in Darfur to co-operate with the mission.
Turning now to Sudan and South Sudan. We heard a briefing from Under-Secretary-General Ladsous, Special Envoy Menkerios, and SRSG Hilde Johnson on the deteriorating situation on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
They noted that the withdrawal of the SPLA from Heglig was initially encouraging but has since resulted in increased bombing by Sudanese Armed Forces into South Sudanese territory.
UNMISS confirmed that at least 16 civilians have been killed and 34 injured in Unity State from aerial bombardments, in addition to significant damage to infrastructure. We were told there have also been SAF incursions into Unity State.
Council members welcomed the withdrawal from Heglig by the SPLA, demanded an immediate halt to aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and urged an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. This is a general characterization of the national comments that were made.
Many delegations expressed concern about reports of extensive damage to oil infrastructure in Heglig. They also acknowledged the constructive contribution of the African Union Peace and Security Council and its communiqué adopted earlier today, which will of course inform our consultations on further action.
Finally, several members of the Council mentioned the importance of Sudan and the SPLM-North engaging in a political solution to the problem in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and the need for urgent humanitarian assistance there.
In my national capacity, let me just reiterate that the United States welcomes the withdrawal of the SPLA from Heglig. We strongly condemn Sudan’s incursion into South Sudan and in particular its heavy aerial bombardments of civilian areas and infrastructure, and we call for the immediate cessation of hostilities. We recognize the right of South Sudan to defend itself and urge South Sudan to exercise maximal restraint in its reaction to Sudan’s attacks.
Turning now finally to Syria. The Security Council received a briefing, as you know, via video teleconference, from Joint Special Envoy Annan and an in-person briefing by Under-Secretary-General Ladsous earlier this afternoon. Mr. Annan stated that the situation in Syria, and I quote, “continues to be unacceptable.”
Mr. Annan expressed his concerns at reports that attacks have resumed in locations directly following the departure of members of the observer team, calling them, and I quote, “unacceptable and reprehensible, if true.” Mr. Annan emphasized that, and I quote again, “the only promises that count are the promises that are kept.”
Under-Secretary-General Ladsous confirmed that to date there are 11 military observers in Syria, two of whom are stationed in Homs and two at present in Hama. Under-Secretary-General Ladsous relayed that the chief military observer will be deployed by the end of the week at which time UNSMIS will be operational and the Advance Team will have concluded its work. Thirty observers, he predicted, will be in country by April 30th, and 100 total observers within a month.
Mr. Ladsous reported that the Syrian Government has refused at least one observer based on his nationality and that Syrian authorities have stated they will not accept UNSMIS staff members from any nations that are members of the Friends of Democratic Syria. He underscored that from the UN’s point of view this is entirely unacceptable.
Several Council members expressed their skepticism of the Syrian Government’s intentions and the veracity of statements contained in the Syrian Foreign Minister’s recent letter to the Joint Special Envoy. All Council members underscored the need for more rapid deployment of observers and stressed the importance of full and immediate implementation of all aspects of the Six-Point Plan.
I’m happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: Madame President, in the words of Mr. Kofi Annan, the situation continues to be “unacceptable.” Yet the Security Council is going ahead with the deployment, as we understand, of the observers. If it’s unacceptable, I mean, how – how can you – my words fail me here. If the situation is unacceptable, why is the Security Council going ahead with the deployment?
Ambassador Rice: I believe – the Security Council voted on Saturday to give the Secretary General the authority to dispatch the full complement of monitors, on the basis of his recommendation and that of Joint Special Envoy Annan. I believe the underlying logic of that recommendation was that the presence of monitors as sought and desired to a substantial extent by the Syrian people themselves—even though they are not in a position to prevent violence—can by their presence not only provide better information and reporting on what’s happening on the ground but have, at least in the time that they’re present in a place, the salutary impact of a diminution of violence. And we have in fact seen that in Homs and Hama and elsewhere. The problem is—and this is what the Joint Special Envoy in part was referring to—is that once they have left, the violence and number of instances has resumed. Now, the way they have tried to deal with that is to leave observers in Homs now and, again now, in Hama. The problem is, obviously, there are not sufficient observers deployed at present to leave in every place that the observer team might visit, after which there may be, if the pattern holds, an intensification of violence. Hence, the Council’s very unanimous and strong view that, having made the decision to deploy these monitors, let’s get them out as swiftly as possible.
Reporter: According to one of your colleagues on Council, he said that it appears that the Syrians are playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Council on this, and he also thought it was an unacceptable situation. In your national capacity, how long do you think this can go on because you can have, like, a hundred observers for the next two, three months? At what point will the Council decide to say, you know, this is really unacceptable, and it’s sort of is going against what you voted for?
Ambassador Rice: Well, I will speak for the United States. As I have been saying over the course of the last several days, our patience is exhausted. The fact that the violence continues despite the so-called ceasefire of April 12 is, in our view, not only unacceptable but reprehensible. And we’ve been very clear, in supporting the dispatch of the balance of the monitoring mission, that the onus remains on the Syrian government to halt the violence and then subsequently on both sides to maintain a cessation of violence and allow the observers to move freely and do their work without any obstruction. If that does not occur, we have said that we’re prepared to work towards consequences for the Syrian government and further action out of the Security Council. I’ve said that repeatedly. You heard Secretary Clinton’s statements in Paris. So there’s no ambiguity or secret about that. But obviously, we need to get the beginnings of a critical mass of observers on the ground to be able to test the proposition as to whether they can in fact have, if not a perfect impact, then a beneficial impact that we decide is worth maintaining.
Reporter: On Sudan, this PSC Communiqué seems to ask the Security Council to endorse at least parts of it under Chapter VII. I wonder—I mean, I guess as the U.S., what do you think of the Communiqué? Is that something that you support? And it’s—some are wondering whether, even though it’s Chapter VII, this would require the prior approval of Khartoum and Juba or it could be—you know, could be endorsed by the Council without their approval. And some—one member at least—was talking about either reparations or in some way compensation to Sudan for the damage to Heglig. What does the U.S. think of that?
Ambassador Rice: Well first of all, we think that the African Union statement, speaking for the United States, is a positive and constructive contribution. We are obviously going to study it carefully in Washington. I think most members of the Council saw it for the first time as we were sitting there in consultations and have not had the opportunity to get reactions from their capital. But I can say from the U.S. point of view, that we view it as a constructive contribution, and we’ll be consulting with Council members about their readiness and willingness to contemplate next steps that reflect the thrust of the AU Communiqué. I can’t prejudge what other Council members will come back with.
With respect to whether the Council could act under Chapter VII without the agreement of either or both capitals, of course the answer to that is yes, at least in theory. Whether—if Council members choose to do so, there’s nothing from a legal point of view that prevents that. And with respect to Heglig, I think most Council members expressed—as I mentioned in my opening remarks—concern about the damage that has occurred in the Heglig oil area. We asked this question of the UN’s personnel, and while some people are quick to say reparations, it’s hardly clear how that damage occurred. It’s not clear whether it was a result of the fighting on the ground, aerial bombardment, sabotage by the SPLA or retreating forces as some in Khartoum have alleged. We just don’t know. And obviously, there are many who will be interested in the answer to that question, but until there’s an independent assessment of what actually happened, it’s premature to talk about compensation or responsibility.
Reporter: One on Syria. I saw that General Mood seemed to at least go into the—at the beginning of the meeting, Major General Robert Mood, is he the Chief Military Observer or did he stay for the meeting? And if so, in what capacity?
Ambassador Rice: He was in the room. He didn’t speak. And I can’t get ahead of what the Secretary-General is going to decide. Nothing has been announced to my knowledge.
Reporter: Madame President, given that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of Al-Qaeda, has given order to his men go and fight in Syria, how concerned are you that Syria will not develop into another Iraq in the region especially if you are curbing the authority of the Syrian government?
Ambassador Rice: Well, I’m not aware of the statement you’re referring to. But obviously, the thrust of what is happening in Syria is that a popular uprising that began very peacefully has been met with brutal force by the Assad government, and the aspirations—the legitimate aspirations—of the Syrian people to determine their own future had been thwarted with massive bloodshed. And now, many on the opposition side have taken up arms in self-defense, and we have what is a widening conflict. Obviously, in that region, anytime you have a conflict situation, one has reason to be concerned that it may provide some fertile ground for extremists to take advantage of. But, I’m not prepared to predict that that will be the fate of Syria. I think what we’re dealing with, first and foremost, are a people who have been repressed, who need and deserve to choose their own future, and that’s what this is about. Thank you.