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

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 28, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, for being here today. The United States congratulates you on your appointment and welcomes you to the Security Council for your first briefing as UN Special Envoy for Syria. We look forward to working with you to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict through full implementation of Resolution 2254.

The United States is unwavering in our commitment to achieve a peaceful, political settlement to the Syrian conflict in line with Resolution 2254. Mr. President, I’m joined today by the Secretary of State’s Special Representative for Syrian Engagement, my good friend Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, to underscore the United States’ determination and sense of urgency toward implementing Resolution 2254’s blue print for a political transition in Syria, which still remains stalled by the Russian Federation and its supporters although the Council unanimously adopted 2254 three years ago.

Mr. President, the United States supports the Special Envoy’s efforts to convene a legitimate, credible, and balanced constitutional committee. We remain prepared to support the formation of a constitutional committee once the UN is satisfied that the membership, composition, and rules of procedure are balanced. We once again affirm that the committee must be balanced between civil society, opposition, and regime representatives to meet the credibility criteria.

The US welcomes Special Envoy Pedersen’s plans to explore other potential initiatives within the “four baskets” framework, including constitutional reform and the need for credible preparations for UN-administered free and fair elections.

In addition, Mr. President, it’s clear that violence must stop in order for a political solution to take hold. One of the best ways the Council can support Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts on the political track is to ensure the creation of a stable security environment not just in Idlib, but throughout Syria. This, of course, will require the Assad regime and its allies to uphold Resolution 2254’s calls for a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire.

Therefore, it’s vital that the Security Council members redouble our efforts toward our shared goal of de-escalating the military conflict in Syria in order to create a safe and calm environment alongside a political process that honors the will of the Syrian people.

To that end, the US strongly urges the parties to maintain the Turkish-Russian brokered ceasefire agreement in Idlib. We’re deeply concerned by both the increase in airstrikes and other military activity in Idlib.

Mr. President, terrorism cannot be used as a pretext for targeting civilians. The United States urges the parties to the Idlib ceasefire to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib province in accordance with international humanitarian law.

As we’ve repeatedly stressed since its inception, the Turkish-Russian brokered ceasefire is essential for protecting the nearly three million civilians residing in Idlib. Syrians experienced significant reductions of airstrikes and civilian deaths since the ceasefire went into effect in September of 2018.

And again, to repeat what we’ve said in this Council for many months, any major military operation in Idlib would be a reckless escalation of the conflict and would result in a humanitarian catastrophe far beyond what we’ve witnessed during previous regime assaults on eastern Ghouta, Aleppo, and Homs. The international community should find ways to de-escalate the conflict including by maintaining the Idlib ceasefire in order to save lives and provide space for the political process.

Mr. President, Resolution 2254 also calls on the parties to release arbitrarily detained individuals, particularly women and children.

Efforts to release detainees, including abductees and missing persons, held by the Assad regime and Syrian political opposition groups have been insufficient under the auspices of the Astana Guarantors. Progress on the release of detainees and missing persons is an important step toward building trust and confidence necessary to achieve a political solution, and it’s a vital component of a political solution under Resolution 2254.

Mr. President, next month will be the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The United States believes that a political solution in Syria can only be arrived at through full implementation of Resolution 2254. We will continue to support the efforts of the UN and Special Envoy Pedersen to achieve that goal.

I thank you, Mr. President.