Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 19, 2020
Thank you, Djiani. And, thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen for your briefing. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to express our gratitude to you and to your deputy, Khalwa al-Mattar, and wish her a speedy recovery from her injuries suffered during the August 4 explosion in Beirut.
Also, before I begin today, I want to take a moment to note the irony in discussing this issue after the results of last Friday’s vote on renewing an arms embargo on Iran. Iran continues to engage in activity in Syria that is counter to the interests of the Syrian people, and yet many members of this Council voted on Friday to enable Iran to buy and sell even more deadly weapons. Iran’s support for its proxies in Syria only helps to bolster the Assad regime and undermine the UN process. How will giving Iran access to more weapons serve the interests of international peace and security? I hope our colleagues who voted against or abstained on Friday’s vote will explain to the Syrian people today how your support for the Iranian regime is helping to make their lives better. They deserve that from you.
On today’s topic of the political situation in Syria, the United States remains encouraged and hopeful that the third meeting of the Constitutional Committee just five days from now in Geneva will yield a clear path forward for the political process. The Syrian people are counting on every representative to the Constitutional Committee to make the August 24 meeting count. Now is the time for urgency, compromise, and action. It is our hope that next week the Committee, under Special Envoy Pedersen’s facilitation, can achieve the following goals:
First, it is important the parties move beyond previous discussions of first principles and, instead, directly address constitutional reforms. We encourage the UN facilitators to push back against attempts by any delegation to stall the substantive work of the Committee and, if necessary, publicly call out any attempts to obstruct the proceedings.
Second, we hope that the Committee members are willing to remain in Geneva for weeks, if possible, and engage in substantive discussions on future constitutional reforms for more than just a day or two.
And, third, we encourage the parties to agree to a schedule of future rounds of Constitutional Committee meetings throughout the fall of 2020 to show all parties are committed to advancing the political process.
The ten-month gap between the second and third round of Constitutional Committee meetings sapped the hard-earned positive momentum this Council helped generate for the parties to successfully launch the Constitutional Committee in October 2019. A schedule for future meetings will advance trust between the parties, and, most importantly, show the Syrian people that progress is being made to build a new, inclusive, Syrian constitution that will pave the way for new UN-monitored elections as soon as possible.
The Trump Administration extends its full support to Special Envoy Pedersen for his efforts to facilitate the Committee’s work toward the drafting of a new constitution in line with Resolution 2254. Next week, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and Special Envoy Joel Rayburn are traveling to Geneva to underline U.S. support for the UN-led political process and to ensure the success of the Constitutional Committee. It is absolutely critical that these next rounds of meetings are constructive. They must help chart a path forward for future meetings and progress in creating a truly representative constitution to make up for time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key to achieving a credible, long-lasting political [solution] to the Syrian conflict is a permanent, nationwide ceasefire. The Council must remain united in our shared commitment that there is only one way forward to bring about a just and lasting peace: the Assad regime must pursue a direct negotiated political solution with the Syrian opposition, facilitated by the United Nations. We call upon the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian enablers to commit to this political process by halting all further attacks, including the killing of civilians and the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure.
We note the disturbing yet unsurprising trend of the increase in COVID-19 cases in Syria. The risk of COVID-19 is especially great for the over one hundred thousand Syrians who remain in arbitrary detention in putrid, overcrowded regime prisons. These detainees must be released immediately and without pre-conditions in line with Resolution 2254 to ensure their safety and to lay the groundwork for progress toward a political solution.
We reiterate our position that there will be no reconstruction, no diplomatic recognition, and no sanctions relief until a political process in line with Resolution 2254 is irreversibly underway.
The United States’ policy of maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime and its backers is focused on using every tool in our toolbox to protect civilians from further violence and bring the Assad regime back to the negotiating table to fully implement Resolution 2254. There is much work ahead to achieve the reforms necessary to facilitate Syria’s political transition from a government at war with its own people to a government that serves the Syrian people. A legitimate political process facilitated by the UN will form the backbone of a new, post-war Syria complete with a new constitution, a nationwide ceasefire, and UN-monitored elections that represent the Syrian people.
It is time for Assad’s needless, brutal war and rampant corruption to come to an end. The regime must heed the calls of Secretary-General Guterres and Special Envoy Pedersen to agree and adhere to a nationwide ceasefire, provide all Syrians access to humanitarian aid that has been generously provided by many of those on this Council, and engage meaningfully on the implementation of Resolution 2254. A political solution is the only solution that can truly protect the Syrian people and chart a course for a better future. We ask each member of this Council to work with us in support of the political process to ensure the legitimate aspirations of Syrians from all corners of the country and the diaspora are fulfilled.