Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Middle East

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations

New York City
January 22, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President, and thanks to Special Coordinator Mladenov for his briefing. Minister Marsudi, welcome and thank you for joining us in the Council for today’s briefing.

Mr. President, we offer our deepest condolences to Chad on the loss of 10 peacekeepers over the weekend in Mali.

Returning to today’s subject. Mr. President, as we’ve often said in this chamber, the Security Council spends far too much time focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues, while not paying enough attention to the many other threats to international peace and security that exist in the Middle East. The approach of this monthly debate has not only failed to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, but it has distracted us and the world from looking at the region as a whole. We fail to focus on steps that would address the instability affecting Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Yemenis, Libyans, and Iranians, among others.

Mr. President, to address the region’s challenges the U.S. is jointly chairing, with our colleagues from Poland, “The Ministerial to Promote Peace and Security in the Middle East” in Warsaw on February 13 and 14.

This ministerial will be an opportunity to share our experiences, insights, and assessments as we work together to support a more stable and peaceful Middle East. The ministerial will serve as a global brainstorming session where we can develop the outline of a stronger security architecture in the region, and establish clear benchmarks for measuring progress. Agenda items include a discussion of the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen as well as sessions on missile development, extremism, and cybersecurity.

It’s also important to state clearly what this ministerial is not. It is not a forum to re-litigate the merits of the JCPOA. While we’ve made our concerns with the JCPOA clear, we respect other states’ decisions to support it. It is also not a venue to demonize or attack Iran. Indeed, Mr. President, the U.S. Secretary of State has outlined a clear strategy to reach a new comprehensive deal with Iran built on the shared global understanding that Iran must cease its destabilizing activities.

Mr. President, recent months have made clear the need for further international action on Iran’s missile program. Just last week, Secretary Pompeo called attention to Iran’s firing of a space launch vehicle, which yet again demonstrates Iran’s defiance of the Council and Resolution 2231.

Similarly, we see Iran’s proxies taking dangerous steps that threaten international peace and security. Israel has exposed Hizballah’s extensive tunneling under the Blue Line – construction that, as UNIFIL made clear, violates UN Security Council Resolution 1701. We commend UNIFIL’s work to keep the Blue Line under control, but it is unacceptable that the Lebanese government has not yet given UNIFIL access to the tunnel entrances on their side of the Blue Line. And, Mr. President, given events over the weekend, let me state clearly that the United States condemns the launching of a rocket from Syria at Israel. This was an unacceptably provocative act by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. We again call on Iran to withdraw all forces from Syria, and reaffirm Israel’s right to self-defense.

Mr. President, the upcoming ministerial in Warsaw will acknowledge these activities among others as drivers of instability in the Middle East, but the scope of the discussion will be much broader than any one country or set of issues. As a testament to this, countries from around the world have been invited to participate. The meeting will be an opportunity for all countries that attend to engage in a dynamic discussion and collaborative thinking with the goal of contributing to a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous Middle East, which would be a more productive and appropriate approach for these monthly Council meetings as well. We look forward to following up with the Council the outcomes of the ministerial in the coming months. I thank you, Mr. President.