Remarks at the United Nations Security Council Meeting on Syria
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. Secretary-General, Special Envoy de Mistura, distinguished colleagues, I want to begin by thanking the other P4 members who joined together to help fashion this resolution and who spent time this morning working with our colleagues in order to bring us here this afternoon, plus our non-P4 member, Germany, for whom we are very grateful for their participation also.
I want to thank all the members of the council for coming together at this late hour. And I thank you in particular, Secretary-General Ban and Special Envoy de Mistura, for your leadership and your commitment. I also want to thank Foreign Minster Lavrov for his collaboration and his efforts over the course of both Vienna conferences to produce the two Vienna communiques that are integrated into this resolution here today.
By approving Resolution 2254 today, this council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support. After four and a half years of war, this is the first time we have been able to come together at the United Nations in the Security Council to embrace a road forward. During that time, one Syrian in 20 has been killed or wounded; one in five is a refugee; one in two has been displaced. The average life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years.
We need to reverse the course, and that is the council’s goal here this afternoon: to put an end to the indiscriminate bombing, the acts of terror, the torture, and the bloodshed. And our shared task is to find a way to make that happen.
In support of this objective, President Obama has set for my country three interrelated goals. The first is to support our friends and to ensure that the instability created by the civil war in Syria does not spread further beyond its borders. And that is why we’re providing a record amount of humanitarian assistance, and it’s why we’re doing more to help Syria’s neighbors, to strengthen their capacity to safeguard their territory and to defend against external threats.
Second, we are determined, with our coalitional partners, to degrade and defeat the terrorist organization known as Daesh. In the past half year, the coalition and its partners have worked with Iraqi forces in liberating Tikrit, freeing Sinjar, removing terrorist commanders from the battlefield, cutting off terrorist supply lines, hitting their oil facilities, and depriving Daesh of more and more of the territory that it once controlled.
Now we are intensifying the pressure, helping our Iraqi partners retake most of Ramadi to squeeze supply routes into Mosul. And we are pushing ahead into northern Syria, assisting our partners along the Iraqi-Syrian border and on the recruiting and propaganda efforts. Further, as evidenced by the finance ministerial that was held right here in this very chamber yesterday, we are multiplying our efforts to cut Daesh off from the revenue sources that support its depravity, its criminality.
But the truth is that nothing would do more to bolster the fight against the terrorists than a broadly supported diplomatic process that gives the Syrian people a real choice – not a choice between Assad or Daesh, but between war and peace, between the violent extremes and a newly empowered political center. That is why we have joined with so many of you in support of an urgent diplomatic initiative. Again and again, countries not just around this dais today, but countless meetings in various parts of the world have reaffirmed the notion that there has to be a political settlement.
Well, this is the test. This is why we’ve joined here in a broader, more action-oriented effort than ever before attempted regarding Syria: to isolate the terrorists and to put Syria on the road to a political transition, envisioned by the Geneva communique, now embraced by the international community and the United Nations Security Council resolution.
As the council’s action today reflects, we have made important progress in recent weeks, and progress that should give us all fresh grounds for encouragement. Last month in Vienna, the United States and other members of the International Syria Support Group agreed on a series of steps to stop the bleeding in Syria, to advance a political transition, to isolate the terrorists, and to help the Syrian people to be able to begin to rebuild their country. Last week in Riyadh, with the support of His Majesty King Salman and his government, a broad cross-section of Syrian opposition representatives came together to form a high committee for negotiation.
Under the resolution approved today, the purpose of those negotiations between the responsible opposition and the government is to facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian governance within six months. The process would lead to the drafting of a new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised election within 18 months. I might add Geneva never had those dates. It is the Vienna process and the Vienna communique that has produced a six-month and 18-month time horizon, and it is the Vienna process that also has embraced the ceasefire concept as well as embraced a set of principles and values about the shape that a new Syria might be able to take as directed by Syrians for Syrians. It’s our hope that a nationwide ceasefire can go into effect, excluding only Daesh and al-Nusrah and any other group that we might decide at some time to designate.
So I would close by saying we’re under no illusions about the obstacles that exist. There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community, especially about the future of President Assad. We have emphasized from the beginning that for this to work, the process has to be led and shaped and decided and implemented by the men and women of Syria. It cannot be imposed from the outside and we are not seeking to do so. But we’ve also seen in recent weeks – in Vienna, in Paris, and in other capitals, and then today here in New York – an unprecedented degree of unity on the need to negotiate this political transition to defeat Daesh, and then, indeed, to end the war.
The resolution that we just approved is a milestone because it sets out specific concepts with specific timeframes. Accordingly, we need to work hard together to help these political talks to go forward, to prepare for a ceasefire, and to encourage all the parties in Syria to participate in good faith.
In closing, let me just underscore the urgency of our task. Like many of you, I’ve met with refugees in and out of refugee camps. I’ve met with survivors, as you have; met with caregivers, as you have; met with many of the people who have been on the front lines of this conflict. I’ve talked to women who have struggled to hold their families together despite constant danger, bitter cold, shortages of food, and great danger. I’ve heard the blood-chilling stories of doctors and relief workers who have been dealing with humanitarian trauma on a daily basis, month after month, year after year – now into the fifth year.
I am aware, as everybody in this chamber is, of the atrocities that have been committed and are being committed even as we sit here this afternoon, and being committed too often against innocent civilians.
Looking ahead, we know that Daesh can never be allowed to gain control in Syria. So we have a global imperative here to deal with a terrorist entity, but also to end the civil war and to bring legitimacy back to the governance of Syria. President Assad, in our judgment – and not everybody shares this – but the majority of the people in the ISSG believe that President Assad has lost the ability, the credibility, to be able to unite the country and to provide the moral credibility to be able to govern it into the future.
So I’d just say, not as a matter of ideology, not as a matter of choice, but purely as a matter of reality, as a matter of fact given the situation on the ground, that if the war is to end, it is imperative that the Syrian people agree on an alternative in terms of their governance. That logic is compelling and it provides a unifying principle for most people in our efforts going forward.
We have a lot of distance to travel – some would say miles to go. But the truth is that in the past two months, we have started from a standstill, from a nonexistent process, to have three separate meetings of the ISSG and now a United Nations Security Council embrace of a process. We have agreed on a plan of action, and the council’s vote today is an important boost on the road to a political settlement. It is a particularly important step because it reaffirms this body’s endorsement of the Geneva communique about the transitional governing body with full executive authority, and it also endorses the progress and the statements that we made in Vienna to set a timeline – a timeline for transition, a timeline for election, and standards for that election – the highest standards under the supervision of the United Nations for a free, fair, transparent, and accountable election. It also brings fundamental values and principles that can guide the shaping of Syria by Syrians for Syrians.
So let us proceed with confidence from here and a determination to end this war, eliminate the terrorist threat, and enable the people of Syria to return safely to their homes.
I now resume my function as president of the council and I give the floor to His Excellency Mr. Sergey Lavrov, minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation.