Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Political Situation in Syria

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 19, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President. And we’d like to thank Special Envoy de Mistura for his briefing and for all the work he has done on behalf of the Syrian people.

The meeting today takes place in an atmosphere of uncertainty and urgency about the future of Syria. The violence on the ground has diminished – for now. This de facto de-escalation offers an opportunity to move forward decisively with a political process to bring about a peaceful, permanent resolution to this conflict. At the same time, the longer we allow the Syrian regime to stall and equivocate – to do everything it can to avoid coming to the table for constructive talks on a political settlement – the greater the danger of a return to the violence that has plagued Syria for nearly eight years will be.

Mr. President, the United States reiterates its firm position that the Constitutional Committee should be convened without delay – in December, before the end of the year, if not sooner. The United Nations and the Special Envoy must move toward that goal by issuing invitations to all 150 committee members without further delay.

The Special Envoy and the Security Council have been discussing the formation of this committee for almost a year. The UN has compiled the list of the committee members with input from the relevant parties.

The list of civil society representatives was to be determined by Special Envoy de Mistura. And he’s been more than patient and flexible in accepting input from the Syrian regime and from others. Any further deliberation must be seen for what it is: an artificial delay, a transparent attempt to distract and delay progress toward a political solution in Syria. Neither the Syrian regime nor the Astana Group, in particular Iran and Russia, can be allowed to veto the UN Special Envoy’s decision on the membership of the Constitutional Committee.

Mr. President, a committee with Assad or Iranian veto power is not credible and does not represent the interests of the Syrian people. Let us recall how this began – not with terrorism or with military combat, but with a government violently repressing peaceful demonstrators. That government must not now be given a veto over fixing the mess it made.

The burden is on Russia to show that it wants its own diplomatic initiative to succeed. Russia must bring the Syrian regime to the table. If it truly wants a political solution, Russia must end the obstruction of this process.

Moscow has proven in the past it has ability to influence its client in Damascus. It must use that influence today to prevent the Syrian regime from continuing to delay the Constitutional Committee’s formation.

The convening of the Constitutional Committee is a first and critical step toward a political transition in Syria.

But Mr. President, the international community will not even begin to consider providing reconstruction support before a durable, irreversible political process is clearly on track. Providing assistance before that point does nothing to address the root cause of the Syrian conflict: the repression by Bashar al-Assad and his regime against the Syrian people.

Assad cannot be rewarded for destroying his own country and overseeing the killing of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

The international community must hold Assad accountable. And the Syrian people must have the opportunity to hold Assad accountable.

All those who were displaced or forced to flee the regime’s repression must have the opportunity to have a new constitution that will protect them, as well as deliver parliamentary and presidential elections in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Only then will Assad’s victims achieve a measure of justice. And only then will all the people of Syria be able to look forward to a better future.

Mr. President, it is long past time that we begin the difficult work of ending this conflict and providing for the safety and stability of Syria. The Syrian people must not be forced to wait any longer. We must urgently seize this window of opportunity to achieve a political transition and a lasting peace in Syria.

I thank you.