Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. That was four and a half hours. Thank you for your patience. We had a lengthy and useful, quite comprehensive briefing on the situation along the border between Sudan and South Sudan from Under-Secretary-General Ladsous as well as Special Envoy Haile Menkerios. The report they provided was—I would characterize as mixed. There has been some progress, and, as I said in the Council, certainly we’re in a better place now—a month after the adoption of Resolution 2046—than we were just prior to its adoption when the circumstances were indeed extremely dire. Today, we heard confirmation that the forces of South Sudan have completely pulled out of Abyei, that the forces of Khartoum—the SAF forces—are also now out of Abyei although there remain some police elements, which are supposed to move tomorrow, and some oil police, who are required to move but for which there is no announced intention to withdraw.
These are positive developments, and we welcome them. I think it’s important for the North to complete the withdrawal of all of its police elements, including the oil police, and that point was made by a number of colleagues in the Council. In addition, we welcome the fact that there—that the two parties have returned to the negotiating table as of early this week, and while many, many difficult issues remain and the progress in these talks is very nascent, the fact that they’re back at the table and continue to work through these issues is certainly better than the alternative.
On the other hand, we heard that there have been mutual allegations of military activity and skirmishes along the border. There have been allegations also of aerial bombardments. It’s been not possible for UN elements to confirm any of these reports definitively, but obviously, what is absolutely clear is that the two sides remain closely poised, in close proximity, and seemingly on a hair trigger. So this is still quite a dangerous—quite a precarious situation along the border, hence the importance of activating the Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mission, for the two sides to send their personnel to that mission, and for the two sides to quickly implement their obligations to demilitarize the border.
The last point I want to make—and obviously many, many other elements of Resolution 2046 and the obligations of the parties were discussed—but the United States emphasized, as did many other countries, our dire concern about the grave humanitarian in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. And what we are seeing in terms of those who have been—those refugees who have made it across the border into Yida Refugee Camp, coming out of Southern Kordofan, is absolutely alarming. Those are the healthy ones, comparatively, that are able to make it out. And what we’re seeing in terms of the most dire, acute malnutrition among children—the numbers are skyrocketing. And this is indeed an exceedingly worrisome situation. There has been no progress in terms of the government of Sudan allowing open humanitarian access, including into rebel areas. The tripartite proposal has not been adopted, and the rains are coming. So this is indeed something that many members of the Council are gravely concerned about.
I’ll stop and take a couple of questions.
Reporter: Ambassador, thanks. If you don’t mind, I’ll start with two questions about Syria. The—it’s come out that a Russian ship that was supposed to reach Syria on Saturday did in fact dock in Syria, the port of Tartous, which was apparently loaded with weapons. I’m just wondering if you could react to that. And then the other thing is—your comments yesterday here at the stakeout have created a bit of a buzz, and people are wondering if there is some sort of—if there is a kind of Plan B out there in which countries are thinking it might be necessary, as it has been in the past—in Kosovo, there was of course the case of Iraq, which is a different situation—where the United States and others went around the Security Council because of the deadlock. Perhaps you could expand—
Ambassador Rice: Well, let me say with respect to the reported docking of a ship carrying Russian arms, this is obviously of the utmost concern given that the Syrian government continues to use deadly force against civilians. It is not technically, obviously, a violation of international law since there’s not an arms embargo, but it’s reprehensible that arms would continue to flow to a regime that is using such horrific and disproportionate force against its own people.
With respect to what I said yesterday, the purpose of my comments and the thrust of them was that there are three potential outcomes, and the desired outcome—the best case outcome—is of course that the Syrian government fulfill its commitments and implement the Annan plan in toto and that the opposition respond in kind. That is the thrust of the efforts that Kofi Annan has been making. We fully support them. We want to see them succeed. But if they are going to succeed, what is clear at this stage is that the government of Syria is going to have to feel much greater pressure, particularly from its partners and supporters, to fulfill its commitments because, up to date, it hasn’t felt sufficient compulsion to do so.
Now, what I also said was, should that not materialize or fail, then it’s the obligation of the Security Council to come together and apply that pressure in a collective way on the government of Syria. Again that, while not an optimal scenario like the first one, is one that would continue to maintain the unity of the Council, preserve, potentially, the viability of the Annan initiative, and we think it would be the second most preferable option. And our interest in this is to sober our collective thinking and concentrate the minds and make sure that we understand that we ought to all be doing our utmost to ensure that option one materializes, failing that, option two. But I was also stating what I think is a reality, that if neither of those scenarios come to pass, that the inevitable outcome of the status quo is that the situation continues to deteriorate, with grave risks for the region as well for the people of Syria. That’s the scenario that none of us want to see and on which all members of the Council, I believe, are united. But if in fact we are all united and we don’t want to see that scenario, then we better do something to change the current dynamic because that’s the direction in which we seem to be heading if the status quo persists.
Reporter: Madam Ambassador, as a quick follow up on Sudan, is there any—there’ve been a lot of stories about discussions possibly between the United States and Russia on trying some kind of a variation of the Yemen option in Syria, and I was wondering if you could comment on that. And as a follow up on Sudan, the talks between and Sudan and South Sudan did start this week. Did you get any update on whether they are making any progress at all?
Ambassador Rice: With respect to Syria, we are certainly in consistent and regular discussions with Russia and other countries about the situation in Syria. We in the Security Council—indeed the entire international community—has agreed by embracing the Annan plan that what we’re looking for is a Syrian-led political transition that results in a democratic dispensation such that the people of Syria get to choose their own future. And we believe that that process would by definition lead to Asad’s departure. Now, whether that is a Yemen-style or some other style, I think we are open about and prepared to discuss. The Yemen transition had certain merits. It certainly has yielded progress in that context, and we’re open to learning what lessons can be gleaned from that or other transitions. The bottom line, though, is that this has to lead to the emergence of a new government that is representative of the will of the Syrian people.
Now, coming to Sudan, we did get a general sense that the discussions in Addis are continuing, that there seem to have been at least some positive process agreements. As always is the case, though, what is necessary is for those to be implemented with actions on the ground, and I think it would be premature for me to characterize their progress any more specifically or their outcome.
Reporter: Madam Ambassador, on al-Houla national inquiry—Syrian national inquiry. Yesterday Bashar al-Jafaari said that we will know in a day or two the identity of the people responsible for that massacre. Indeed, this morning—there was a conference an hour and a half ago, and they did not really name any culprits for these massacres. But they said they are not responsible, and they said all the people who were killed were peaceful people who refused to be against the government. They gave their reasoning, and they also said that all of them were killed from close quarter by guns or by knives, contrary to what Mr. Ladsous said that some of them were killed by shells. They denied that completely. Your reaction to this national Syrian inquiry results, which is preliminary, initial results? And also my second point is, yesterday, also Churkin—Ambassador Churkin—said that there must be accountability, there must be an investigation into the killing. Does he mean an international, transparent, independent, inquiry or does he mean the national Syrian—
Ambassador Rice: Talal, you know better than to ask me to speak for Ambassador Churkin.
Reporter: Can I put it this way? Are you going to move in the Security Council to establish such a mechanism to investigate and hold people accountable because since the Russians are agreeing to it, you are demanding it—are you going to move on it?
Ambassador Rice: Okay first of all, in response to your question about our reaction to the Syrian characterization of what transpired in Houla, I mean—I think quite simply it’s another blatant lie. There is no factual evidence, including that provided by the UN observers, that would substantiate that rendition of events. And what has transpired has been clearly documented by the UN monitors on the ground. That’s why they’re there, and there’s not any ambiguity about what was done with heavy weapons by whom and also the characterization of the shabiha militia being in all likelihood responsible for the door-to-door killing of innocents execution-style. So that’s the answer to that question.
With respect to an inquiry, I mean, I think it’s quite clear what happened. Having said that, there is a discussion underway in Geneva in the context of the Human Rights Council—discussion on a resolution on this subject that may come up as soon as tomorrow in which I think there will be an effort to try to ensure that facts are established to enable holding those individuals responsible accountable. But this is still something in progress.
Reporter: On Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan. There was a lot of back and forth in the Council when the resolution was passed whether the paragraph about these two regions are under Chapter VII. So, given what you’ve said, do you feel that Sudan is in any way not complying with or violating a Chapter VII mandate of the resolution, both to negotiate and/or to allow in access? And just one other thing I wanted to know. In Addis—
it seems like a lot of the—some of the basis of the conflict is financial. So I wanted to know, is it your understanding that they’re actually negotiating things like the oil transfer fee or IMF debt relief or what Sudan asked for—reparations for Heglig—or is it all security or is the financial aspect—and can the U.S. play any role in solving those financial issues?
Ambassador Rice: Well, to your first question, all of the operative paragraphs of resolution 2046 are under Chapter VII, and what we know—indeed what was reaffirmed today—is that there are various aspects of the obligations—the Chapter VII obligations under that resolution—that are unfulfilled by both sides, including the provisions related to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. So both sides have done some things, both sides have not done everything, and that remains something of great interest to and focus by the Council.
Reporter: Financial. Whether the U.S. can play a role in—
Ambassador Rice: Well first of all, I’m not able to give you a detailed characterization of the discussions in Addis. Others who are there, both for the U.S. and for the UN, can do that more precisely. But my understanding is that in this round thus far they have not gotten into the oil issues, the revenue-sharing issues. But they have in the past, as you know, and we have been very active, along with others, in trying to encourage a fair and viable resolution to the revenue-sharing issues, including helping the two parties draw on international expertise to try to work through these quite complex financial issues.
Reporter: Reducing debt at the IMF? Would the U.S. support reduction of Sudan’s debt at the IMF?
Ambassador Rice: I’m not prepared to answer that at this stage. Thank you.