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

Ambassador James Jeffrey
U.S. Special Representative for Syria
United States
U.S. Department of State
New York City
September 18, 2018


Thank you to Ambassador Haley for her leadership to support the people of Syria and her invitation to present here today. Thank you, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, for your briefings.

Before I continue, I would like to express sorrow to our Council partners Russia for the tragic loss of life when the Russian plane was downed yesterday. The unfortunate incident reminds us of the need to find a permanent, peaceful, and political resolution to the conflict in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

For 3 million Syrians, Idlib is their last hope for refuge from the Assad regime’s reign of terror, as we just heard from the Under-Secretary-General. These people know Assad’s brutality all too well. That is because many of them, 1.4 million of them to be exact, already fled their homes before.

One of those people is a 24-year-old woman named Hiba. Hiba and her family left the town of eastern Ghouta in March. At that time, the Secretary-General described the assault on eastern Ghouta as “hell on Earth.” So Hiba and her family were forced to flee to Idlib, hoping to find a place where they would not have to fear for their lives.

But now Hiba is on the frontline once again. As she told a reporter, “We saw enough bombing in eastern Ghouta. I cried so much when I heard the warplanes again…There is nowhere to take shelter.”

It is for Hiba, for the 3 million civilians struggling alongside her in Idlib and for all her fellow citizens across Syria and in the diaspora that we need to see not just another stopgap arrangement but a lasting ceasefire that paves the way for a credible political solution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva process.

As President Trump has stated, “Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib,” because there is no military solution to this conflict. Russia wants the world to believe that after a military campaign, everything will go back to the way it used to be.

That is why they ask for the three Rs: Recognition of the regime, Reconstruction money, and pushing Syria’s neighbors to send Refugees home before it is safe to do so, and trying to sweep the past seven years of violence under the rug. But let’s be serious.

Assad and the henchmen who unleashed these atrocities will never be welcome in the world of civilized nations.

They will get no help to rebuild, certainly not from us. I can’t imagine that any other government would want to explain to its people why they would send aid to the barbaric Assad regime.

There will not be stability om Syria as long as Iran and its proxy forces remain. These groups are responsible for some of the most egregious violence in this war. They’ve directed the regime’s starve-and-surrender campaign. And now they’re on Israel’s doorstep. This is unacceptable.

Iran cannot dictate the future for the Syrian people. If Russia is interested in bringing peace to Syria, it needs to make sure Iran and its militias leave Syria once and for all. The risk of a broader conflict will leave with them.

Iran is responsible for creating the Syria we see today – a broken and violent country. The Syrian people know full well who did this to them. No one will forget. We must prevent the people of Syria from facing yet another catastrophe at the hands of the Assad regime. And the only way forward is a lasting ceasefire, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Yesterday, as we just heard, Russia and Turkey agreed to stabilize the situation in Idlib. We call on all parties to commit to a lasting ceasefire and to take immediate steps to advance the Geneva peace process further. Again, the only way forward is a genuine and inclusive political solution.

Last week, I and others met with Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to determine how we advance the Geneva political process. This has to be our focus.

We need talks that stick to the roadmap for a new constitution and elections in line with 2254. The United States is fully committed to this effort, which is why I am here today to support Ambassador Haley and her team here in New York.

Thus, Special Envoy de Mistura, in our view, should immediately move forward, as he has laid out, with the convening of a constitutional committee, in keeping with his mandate.

We have been discussing this committee since January. We understand that Russia, back at the beginning, told us that it was fully on board and promised that this committee would fully support the UN Geneva process. As Staffan de Mistura said, it is urgent to move forward now.

Thus, the UN should set a date for the first meeting of this committee and move ahead with creating such a new constitution. And we should hear back from the UN on its progress by October 31.

I urge other Security Council partners to support such an approach.