Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

James F. Jeffrey
Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 22, 2019


Thank you, Madam President. Ms. Al-Halak, that was a very commendable and very moving presentation of the problems to the civilians and particularly the women of Syria that this terrible conflict has brought. Thank you very much again for that presentation.

Special Envoy Geir Pedersen, thanks so much for your remarks, but even more for the pivotal role you played in last month’s launch of the Constitutional Committee. We congratulate you, personally as well as the Secretary-General and the UN for this signal achievement.

We must not mistake one individual step, however important, for the peace that we are pursuing. Still, consider the significance of what has happened in Geneva. Pursuant to a decision by this Council, we now have two locations officially recognized by the international community for dealing with Syria and the problems with the Syrian conflict. The regime in Damascus and a congress of members of all political views in Geneva. We have no doubt that this balance, particularly the work that could be done in Geneva, can open the door to a much greater future if this Council supports it fully. So, that is our first prescription for a resolution to this terrible crisis.

The second, also pursuant to 2254, is a ceasefire. Madam President just think of what we have seen since this Council last met to talk about Syria. We’ve seen in the North-East major new combat opening with the Turkish incursion into the North-East. Four of the five outside armies, the Syrian Army, and several major non-state actors all maneuvering, sometimes shooting at each other in a very confined and very dangerous area.

Meanwhile, in the North-West in Idlib, we’ve seen a new increase in violence. As Madam Al-Halak reminded us, yesterday, we saw a terrible incident of a long-range strategic missile fired deliberately in our view into an IDP area next to a maternity hospital, killing or wounding scores of people.

Finally, last week has seen an increase in violence involving three other of the major state-military forces in the air over Syria. Here, blame needs to be placed on the Iranian Government for continuing to move long-range weapon systems into Syria to continue its dangerous actions through its proxies that, in the last year, have seen three of our partners struck by these long-range weapon systems. And we support, in particular, Israel’s right of self-defense and in particular its right to act where it needs to, for that self-defense. So that’s our second priority is a nation-wide ceasefire.

Our third is unrelenting diplomatic and economic pressure by the international community on Damascus to push forward these other goals. Because we think without such pressure, we will not get them. In this regard, the United States maintains its position that there can be no reconstruction assistance to Damascus and the areas that it controls, until there is a credible and irreversible political process in line with 2254 and we assure that it is well underway.

We believe that this position is consistent with many of our European and Middle Eastern partners. We will work closely with them to ensure that this pressure is maintained. Any efforts to program reconstruction assistance at this moment are premature. And here, we appreciate the importance of the UN assistance also adhering to its principles and parameters and support of a political solution. So that’s our third area of emphasis.

Our fourth, however, in support of a viable political solution, runs through trying to find compromises, trying to find an alternative to a military solution that at least the regime believes is still possible. Here, my government in particular has worked with many around this table. I want to emphasize in particular our work with the Russian Federation, including Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Sochi to meet with President Putin in May. We believe that there is a way forward as long as we maintain this policy focused on the political process, pressure on the regime and on those who support it. And ultimately, a national ceasefire to reach a compromise solution that will finally end this terrible war, that from use of chemical weapons to millions of refugees destabilizing whole areas, to the rise of various terrorist groups, to the mass slaughter of civilians has been such a disgrace to the world.

Thank you very much, Madam President.