Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. Let me share with you a summary of our discussions on Darfur in consultations before I take your questions. Following Under-Secretary-General Ladsous’s briefing in the open chamber, Council members continued discussions of the situation in Darfur in closed consultations. In those discussions, Council members reiterated the need for all parties to immediately cease violence and engage in peace negotiations. They deplored the attacks on UNAMID peacekeepers and urged Sudan to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Security Council underscored the importance of UNAMID’s core mandate of protection of civilians and supporting humanitarian access. They expressed concern about the continuing instability and escalating violence in Darfur and the humanitarian conditions. Council members welcomed some positive steps in implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, including the creation of some new institutions, but they expressed concerns about delays in making these institutions effective.
Council members regretted that non-signatory armed movements remain outside of the process and urged all efforts to persuade armed groups to negotiate with the government and for the government of Sudan to be open to such negotiations. Security Council members noted the importance of including Darfuri stakeholders in political and peace processes while also noting that there must be freedom of speech, freedom of movement, respect for human rights, and a general climate of security.
Council members expressed support for the Secretariat’s efforts to increase UNAMID’s efficiency and effectiveness and emphasized the need for UNAMID to have full freedom of movement and access throughout Darfur.
Reporter: Madame ambassador – president for a few more days. I wanted to ask you, actually, about Syria and the latest violence in Hama and whether the U.S. has any more information of how it might have started and its implications for the ceasefire.
Ambassador Rice: I’m not in a position to offer details on the violence in Hama today. I presume you’re referring primarily to the collapse of – the tragic collapse of the building in which scores were killed. It would appear that that was the result of intense shelling, but I’m not in a position to say that with certainty. We condemn what remains the government’s refusal to abide by its commitments, its continued intense use of heavy weaponry in Hama and elsewhere, which continues to result in large numbers of civilian deaths every day. This is precisely what we have been concerned about. It is further indication that the government is ready to make commitments and break them just as swiftly, and it certainly casts further doubt – where there was already a great deal – on the government’s readiness to implement the core elements of the Annan Plan.
Reporter: Madame Ambassador, how soon could the Security Council have a resolution that would be intended to support the African Union communiqué the other day? And is it something that we could see maybe this week?
Ambassador Rice: We – the United States – introduced a text that will begin to be discussed for the first time this afternoon. Most Council members are just receiving it, and obviously it’s a text that will require input from capitals and, I think, at least a few days of discussion. The intention of the text was to provide swift and substantive support to the decisions of the African Union, in the form that the African Union requested, but there were some members who either need more time to get guidance from their capitals or who are skeptical of the wisdom of going directly to a resolution. So we’re going to have further discussions, and we’ll see where we end up. I can’t predict on timing. From the U.S. point of view and I think from the point of view of many Council members, this is extremely urgent, and the Council ought to act with the speed that it’s capable of in urgent situations.
Reporter: On Darfur, on UNAMID: How likely is the Council to grant the reduction of forces that the Secretariat is asking for? And will the Council have some sort of consultation process with the African Union on it?
Ambassador Rice: The Secretariat has engaged with the African Union in formulating its recommendations. This is a subject that we’ll take up formally when we renew UNAMID’s mandate. I did not hear a great deal – maybe one or two countries raised a few questions about the proposed configuration – but I didn’t sense any broad-based concern or skepticism. But we’ll come back to this in detail as we do the mandate renewal. And I think – as you know, the Council has annual consultations with the African Union PSC. They tend to happen in May/June timeframe. I suspect that we’ll follow that pattern. They would be here in New York this time, and I’m sure that Sudan will be among the issues on the agenda. But there wouldn’t be any other formal mechanism for Council to Council consultation.
Reporter: On Darfur, Ambassador Sangqu of South Africa just said he’s at least concerned of this idea of reducing the force size, such that there could be kind of a backlash. I think it happened in East Timor, for example. At one time, the UN pulled out. Does the U.S. think that things are going as well in Darfur as it seemed that Mr. Ladsous was saying, that – at least in the north and on the borders? And on Sudan / South Sudan: I’ve heard that the U.S. ambassador and other ambassadors are going to actually visit Heglig and see the damage. I want to know if that’s true and how that relates to the issues in your draft resolution and in trying to get the two parties negotiating. Do you think that this – I’ve heard that it’s as much as a billion dollars of damage or long-term repair. What’s the relation between that fact on the ground and what you want to see the two parties do?
Ambassador Rice: Well, on Heglig, I think it is the case that the government in Khartoum was trying to organize to take some diplomats down to Heglig. I don’t – I think what is clear is that there has been damage. I don’t know that we have reliable cost estimates on that. What is most unclear is how the damage was caused, and I discussed this the other day. There are multiple ways that this could have been caused by the fighting between the parties, by sabotage, by either or both sides, or indeed by aerial bombardment, which was utilized by Khartoum in trying to dislodge the SPLA forces from Heglig – or maybe come combination thereof. It doesn’t factor directly into the draft we’re discussing because the draft is really primarily focused on reinforcing the African Union decision of a couple of days ago.
Going back to Darfur, remind me again of what –
Reporter: There’s a concern expressed by South Africa and maybe others that, if you pull out too quickly, you might have to go back in as took place in Timor Leste.
Ambassador Rice: Well, first of all, from a U.S. point of view, we’re hardly sanguine about the security situation. We see that the violence is escalating in four or five regions of Darfur, and we’re particularly concerned about North Darfur and Jebel Marra. So this remains a very insecure, very serious situation. The way we understand the proposals by DPKO is not to really think of it as a downsizing but, rather, a right-sizing so that the personnel that they have are ones that are, first of all, optimally equipped and trained. There’s been some issues with that, I think you know. Secondly, that the police component is configured to be maximally effective and to be deployed in areas where they can have the greatest beneficial impact in terms of protecting civilians. There have been issues with air assets having been grounded by the government – underutilized – so I think they’re trying to address those as well. So, obviously the Council will have further opportunity to delve into these recommendations, as I said, when we do the mandate renewal. But certainly from our point of view, I don’t think it’s correct to view it as a downsizing but, rather, trying to align the personnel resources and equipment on the ground with the needs as they are today, as opposed to when the force was originally mandated.
Reporter: Madame President, the French Foreign Minister threatened today to demand international intervention against al-Asad if the peace plan in place seemed to fail and gave until the 5th of May when Kofi Annan is supposed to report to the Council for it to work. Since it’s no secret that you work very closely with the French and that you yourself said that you’d be assessing this plan continuously during the first 90 days and that the renewal is not automatic, nobody should assume that—does that reflect the United States position as well?
Ambassador Rice: No. I don’t speak for France, much as we do consult and coordinate, and I can’t do so now. But let me say this – that our position has been very clear. We have been skeptical from the outset as to whether the Asad regime was prepared to implement its commitments. We were very sober in taking the decision to augment the observer mission and send out the full complement with the hope that the presence of observers would have at least a minimal salutary impact on security where they were able to be. I think that remains very much an open question. Particularly, we will want to see the extent to which they are able to move about freely, to which their presence contributes to a better situation. I have underscored in my remarks here at this stakeout and in the Council, as has Secretary Clinton on a number of occasions, that the United States’ patience is exhausted, and we are going to be watching very carefully to determine if this observer mission is having the impact that we all hoped it would, even if our expectations were low. And if it isn’t, we will be very ready within the 90-day period to come back to this Council and discuss what pressures ought to be applied. We have talked about the importance of this Council being prepared to consider sanctions in the event that the Assad regime continues to violate every commitment it makes.