Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, for your excellent briefing. I will focus today on three topics: Syria, Lebanon and Middle East peace.
On September 27, this Council confirmed that the use of chemical weapons anywhere is a threat to international peace and security. In so doing, the Council fulfilled its role as a guardian of global stability by voting unanimously to require the expeditious and total destruction of Syria’s deadly chemical weapons program. This welcome vote was a necessary response to the Syrian government’s ruthless and repeated use of chemical weapons against its own people. But to have meaning, the resolution must be implemented immediately and with great rigor.
Under the joint leadership of the UN and OPCW, implementation has already begun. I commend the brave men and women of both organizations for their courage and professional dedication; and welcome the appointment of Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag. Make no mistake, what we are attempting is without precedent. Never before have international experts been asked to locate, secure and destroy a vast quantity of nerve agents, toxins and other chemical arms in a country torn apart by conflict.
The responsibility for complying with Resolution 2118 rests with Syria’s leadership, which built these weapons of mass destruction; then lied about them; then used them; then promised – under international pressure – to cooperate in eliminating them.
The Secretary General has aptly pointed out that a red light for one form of weapon does not mean a green light for others. The vast majority of the human carnage in Syria has been – and continues to be – inflicted by government bombs, mortars, shells and bullets. As innocent people continue to be targeted, the country is disintegrating. This has devastating human consequences and its effects are spreading across the region.
My government believes that the only viable way to end the horrific violence in Syria is through a political transition based on the Geneva Action Group Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body with full executive powers, chosen by mutual consent. As President Obama and Secretary Kerry have consistently stated, given the role of the present regime in monstrous crimes these last two-and-a-half years, Assad has no part to play in a political transition. The United States supports the consultative efforts now being made by Joint Special Representative Brahimi and will continue consultations of our own with, among others, Mr. Brahimi, Russia, the London 11, and the Syrian opposition, so that the Geneva II conference can be convened urgently.
It is imperative to make diplomatic progress, and it is beyond urgent to take additional steps to relieve suffering both inside Syria and among the more than two million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighboring countries. The United States strongly endorsed the Council’s recent presidential statement demanding secure passage for humanitarian relief. But statements alone are meaningless without changes in behavior on the ground. We on the Council must track progress, report any and all obstruction and press urgently for compliance with the basic standards enshrined in this PRST. Winter is fast approaching, and the despair of families across Syria is only growing worse. If I may, Mr. President, I would like to take this occasion to highlight two alarming and time-sensitive issues that warrant this council’s urgent attention.
First, in Mouadamiya, people have been under siege and without access to basic necessities for almost one full year. We have credible reports that residents are eating leaves of trees, and people have died of malnutrition-related causes. The regime continues to trap an estimated 12,000 people, of whom 7,000 are women and children. They are begging us – this week in fact – begging us to save them from death. All parties must allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access to evacuate the remaining civilians and deliver life-saving treatment and supplies in this area. The parties have to respect their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws to protect civilians and to allow the safe access of neutral, impartial humanitarian organizations to all people in need. The situation again, is urgent.
The second issue is the daily assault on medical neutrality. This conflict is going to be remembered even 100 years from now for the obliteration of this core principle; this core principle of medical neutrality. According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria’s recent report, “The denial of medical care as a weapon of war is a distinct and chilling reality of the war…government forces have engaged in agonizing cruelty against the sick and wounded.” The attacks against medical facilities and on those requiring treatment is barbaric and must halt immediately. The provision of emergency help and needed medical equipment should not be subject to any sort of a political litmus test. People in dire need should be helped, regardless of their sect or where they come from in Syria
The Syrian healthcare system is shattered. The World Health Organization reports that as of June, in Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and Homs, more than 70 percent of health centers have been damaged or are out of service. Nearly 40 percent of the 1,724 primary health care centers across the country are either badly damaged or completely closed.
Worse, nearly 70 percent of Syria’s health professionals – up to 80,000 – have fled the country, according to WHO. And some of you have seen the statistic that of the 5000 doctors in Aleppo before the war, 36 remain. 36. Many governorates now lack qualified medical expertise for trauma, anesthesia and specialized laboratory personnel. In two northern governorates, there is hardly any female staff available to cope with reproductive health emergencies or to respond to gender-based violence. The regime must immediately lift any bureaucratic blocks on the delivery of urgently needed medical aid and cease targeting medical workers. Non-state actors too must respect medical neutrality and facilitate access. So, in closing, we appeal urgently to Council members to pressure the regime, those who have influence with the regime, to pressure the regime to fulfill its obligations under international humanitarian law as it relates to medical neutrality. The United States will continue to urge opposition groups to facilitate medical access in areas under their control. For the sake of the Syrian people, and the sake of the sanctity of medical neutrality everywhere, we have to do more to address this problem.
Mr. President, Lebanon is among the neighboring countries most affected by the Syrian civil war. Because of the nature of that conflict, and because of the influx of refugees, Lebanon faces enormous humanitarian, economic, and security challenges. More than one-fifth of the population of Lebanon is now refugees from Syria.
The recent meeting in New York of the International Support Group for Lebanon demonstrated that the permanent members of this Council, the European Union, the Arab League, the UN, and other international institutions share a common agenda in support of Lebanon as it faces current challenges and promotes a policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict. At that meeting, Secretary Kerry announced that the United States will contribute an additional $30 million to help Lebanese communities cope with the rising demand for public services, including those related to infrastructure, education and health. This is in addition to the $74 million in new humanitarian assistance, which is Lebanon’s share of the $340 million in refugee-related aid announced by President Obama during his visit to the UN General Assembly.
My government commends Lebanon’s cooperation with the World Bank and UN in developing a plan to address its heightened needs. We look forward to reviewing that plan, and we hope it will provide a firm basis – along with relevant Security Council resolutions including 1701 – for further internationally-supported efforts to maintain Lebanon’s political progress, security, social cohesion and economic well-being. In the meantime, we call on the international community to help reduce the extraordinary burdens that Lebanon – through no fault of its own – has been compelled to bear.
Turning to, finally, the ongoing negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas made clear in front of the General Assembly their commitment to reaching an enduring peace agreement that ends their conflict. President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Special Envoy Martin Indyk remain deeply engaged in achieving a final status accord within the nine-month timeframe set for the negotiations. Additionally, the international community continues to demonstrate strong support for the peace process, most recently through several events on the margins of the UN General Assembly, including the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee and Quartet Principals meetings, as well as the Special Meeting of UNRWA Supporters event, which conveyed continued support for the Agency and its mission.
As a complement to the political track, international support for the Palestinian economy and the Palestinian Authority is crucial. We also recognize the need to address the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Gaza and wish to highlight the continued efforts we are making to promote economic development in both the West Bank and Gaza, including more than $348 million in debt relief for the Palestinian Authority that the United States has provided just this year. Private sector debt relief and direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority are vital, and we encourage donors to meet their existing commitments and provide additional support. To stimulate short-term economic growth, we’ve worked with the PA to encourage immediate investment in high-impact micro-infrastructure projects in the West Bank, and the United States has provided $25 million in funding for these projects.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms any calls for violence. We are especially concerned about the recent discovery of “attack tunnels” emanating from Gaza into Israel. In addition, we remain concerned about ongoing incidents of violence in the West Bank as well as recent clashes around holy sites in Jerusalem; we stress the importance of maintaining calm in these sensitive places.
We urge restraint on the part of all sides, and call upon all parties to avoid taking actions that undermine final status negotiations. Following the bold lead of both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, it is essential that we all work to build the trust and confidence necessary for a lasting peace.
Thank you, Mr. President.
- Cross posted from U.S. Mission to the UN