Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 18, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President. And, thank you, Geir Pedersen for your briefing. You and your team did an exceptional job navigating the uncertain and challenging circumstances during last month’s third round of the Constitutional Committee meetings. The United States appreciates your hard work and also thanks the Swiss hosts for helping safely address the challenges posed to the meetings by COVID-19.
During the Council’s last Syria political meeting to the start of the Constitutional Committee, I outlined three specific benchmarks that we had hoped the Committee would reach during the third round of the meetings. Those benchmarks were: A substantive discussion among the Syrian parties on specific constitutional reforms; meeting for longer than a few symbolic days to ensure a substantive discussion of reforms could occur; and a schedule of future meeting rounds for the remainder of the year.
Unfortunately, the latest round did not result in a substantive discussion of the constitutional reforms nor did it produce an agreement on a schedule for future meetings. This was a missed opportunity to advance the political process. We acknowledge that the respective Syrian delegations traveled to Geneva in good faith to participate in the meetings. This is a positive step. Moreover, we understand the constraints faced by the UN and Syrian delegations posed by COVID-19.
But, now is not the time for inaction or to lose hope. It is time to redouble our efforts to support Special Envoy Pedersen to ensure that progress is achieved at the next round where the parties must move beyond previous discussions of first principles and directly address constitutional reforms. This is the clearest path to the new Syrian constitution that the international community, including the Russian Federation, agreed to in 2015 when we voted in favor of Resolution 2254. A new constitution is the clearest path to any free and fair elections in the country that the international community can embrace.
We encourage Special Envoy Pedersen to take all measures to facilitate the parties’ efforts consistent with the UN’s Terms of Reference, and urge the Syrian delegations to agree on the agenda and timing of the next session and continue regular meetings throughout the end of the year.
Although the parties have a long way to go in realizing a legitimate political process facilitated by the UN, we must have progress in the immediate term. These efforts will provide the basis for a new, post-war Syria characterized by a nationwide ceasefire; a new constitution; and UN-monitored elections that represent the will of the Syrian people.
The Secretary-General’s and Special Envoy Pedersen’s calls for the declaration of a permanent nationwide ceasefire in Syria is key to lasting peace in Syria, but it have yet to be achieved. A key component of the March 5 Turkish-Russian ceasefire [arrangement], and ceasefire arrangements for Idlib before it, was a commitment to reopen the M4 and M5 international highways to commercial traffic. Since March 5, the joint Russian-Turkish patrols concluded three full patrols along the M4 highway out of 25 attempts, and the road is still not open to civilian or commercial traffic. This important step to implementation of the March 5 ceasefire arrangement should move ahead as soon as possible.
There is a de-facto ceasefire now in place in Syria apart from internationally supported operations against UN-designated terrorists. It is crucial for the political process that all parties acknowledge formally and publicly this reality and endorse a nation-wide ceasefire.
Five years ago, when the Security Council adopted Resolution 2254 as the roadmap for a peaceful political transition to address the underlying causes of the deadly conflict. This remains the central goal of the United States of America and is the reason we deeply are committed to the UN-led political process for a political transition.
The Syrian people will not know peace and Syrian refugees will not willingly volunteer to return to Syria and fulfil their legitimate aspirations until they are assured that the Assad regime has changed its behavior toward the Syrian people.
The policy of the Trump administration is not dependent on Assad as a person. The Syrian regime is more than that one person. It is a vast network of security services, the military, and corrupt businessmen, all of whom contribute to the suffering of the Syria people. Without fundamental reform, the regime will continue this bad behavior regardless of who is in charge.
This also extends to changing the regime’s relationship with Iran – a relationship that destabilizes the security of Syria’s neighbors and threatens Syrian civilians as Iran sends soldiers, weapons, and money to prop up the Assad regime. The United States triggered Resolution 2231’s snapback mechanism to keep the existing arms embargo in place and reimpose sanctions. With fewer UN arms restrictions, Iran will be emboldened to transfer even more weapons to Syria, putting more civilians and the Syrian political process at risk.
The United States will be unrelenting in our pursuit of a credible political process that addresses the root causes of the Syrian tragedy and fundamentally changes the Assad regime’s behavior. Our pressure campaign will continue until the Assad regime makes the strategic shift from its goal of a military solution, at the expense of the Syrian people and in defiance of the international community, to engaging constructively in a political solution.
There will be no reconstruction funding, no diplomatic recognition, and no sanctions relief from the United States of America until the full implementation of the political process outlined in Resolution 2254 is irreversibly underway.
There is only one way forward for the Assad regime to escape total collapse and instability: Assad and his supporters must heed the calls of this Council, must adhere to a nationwide ceasefire, and must engage seriously on the implementation of Resolution 2254.
If the process does not work out the way it should, in which all of Syria’s citizens are properly represented, Syria will only know a future conflict and the region will continue to suffer.
Thank you, Mr. President.