Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, for your briefing.
We are witnessing a rapid deterioration of an already devastating situation in Syria, where at least 70,000 Syrians have been killed and millions displaced. The Syrian people continue to face deplorable attacks and massacres by regime forces, including the use of heavy weapons, aircraft, and ballistic missiles. We are outraged by horrific reports that hundreds of Syrians were killed over the weekend in the Damascus suburb of Jdaidet Al-Fadl. These actions dramatize the Assad regime’s complete disregard for the lives of Syria’s citizens, including its children. There must be full accountability for these crimes, and we urge the Syrian authorities to permit free and unfettered access to the Commission of Inquiry to investigate atrocities, as called for by the General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council.
The exponential surge in refugees is among the clearest signs of this dire situation. Over 400,000 Syrians have fled in the last seven weeks alone, and Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and UN humanitarian agencies are approaching a saturation point. We applaud the generosity of the governments and people who are hosting this exploding number of refugees. We count on all of Syria’s neighbors to continue to keep their borders open, so that those fleeing the conflict can find safety. We call on all countries to fulfill their commitments to the UN’s Syria appeals and to consider what more they can do, as the UN prepares to launch a new appeal next month. We are deeply grateful to the Government of Kuwait for fulfilling its generous contribution of $300 million to UN agencies and other international organizations. The United States is providing over $409 million in humanitarian assistance to meet health, water, sanitation, and hygiene needs. We are also providing food aid, including enough wheat to provide a four-month supply of flour to over one million people.
We commend the Syrian Opposition Coalition for its bold declaration of principles in Istanbul last weekend, highlighting its commitment to protect the rights and interests of minorities, reject extremism, seek a political solution to the conflict, prevent the use or transfer of chemical weapons, and preserve state institutions. Secretary of State Kerry underscored the United States’ firm support for the Coalition’s commitment to a political solution of an inclusive, tolerant vision for Syria by announcing the doubling of our non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition to $250 million to assist local opposition councils, build the capacity of civilian activists, and link Syrian citizens with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and local coordinating councils.
We continue to support a negotiated solution to the conflict based on the Geneva Communiqué. We remain in close consultation with a number of countries to consider what more we can do to change Assad’s calculus and facilitate an orderly end to the conflict. We urge member states to press the Assad regime to commit to credible negotiations based on the framework agreed in Geneva, which calls for Assad to transfer his full executive authority to a transitional governing body.
The presence of violent extremists in Syria, including the al-Nusrah Front, and the dangers posed by chemical weapons are very real and deeply concerning. The Syrian people recognize the threat al-Qaida-linked extremists pose to their revolution, a revolution that otherwise stands for dignity and respect for human rights. They have been clear that foreign extremist ideology is not compatible with the democratic and inclusive vision for Syria for which many brave Syrians are fighting and dying. We support the UN Secretary-General’s efforts to investigate any and all credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Having explicitly requested a UN investigation, the Syrian authorities should give the team the Secretary-General has assembled full and unfettered access to conduct its work comprehensively.
As this Council has long recognized, the conflict in Syria threatens the stability of its neighbors, particularly Lebanon, as demonstrated by recent attacks in Hermel and Al-Qasr. Hizballah not only continues to undermine Lebanon from within by violating the government’s policy of disassociation but actively enables Assad to wage war on the Syrian people by providing money, weapons, and expertise to the regime in close coordination with Iran.
The United States strongly supports Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and stability. We appreciate President Michel Sleiman’s leadership during this turbulent period. We congratulate Tammam Salam as Lebanon’s prime minister-designate. This nomination is a positive first step towards forming a new government – a process that must remain Lebanese-led. We encourage Lebanon’s leaders to adhere to the legal and constitutional framework for holding timely parliamentary elections.
Turning to Middle East peace, President Obama’s trip to the region has led to a series of constructive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The United States remains committed to trying to bring both sides back to direct negotiations, and our conversations have focused on creating the necessary climate. The parties have agreed to engage in new efforts to promote economic development for the Palestinian people by removing some of the barriers to commerce in the West Bank and expanding private sector investment in the West Bank. This is no substitute for serious negotiations, but we hope these measures will increase the chances for successful talks. The United States will work closely with both Israeli and Palestinian officials and Quartet representative Tony Blair to help move the process forward. As President Obama said in Jerusalem: despite the evident challenges—and I quote—“Peace is necessary,” “Peace is just,” and “Peace is possible.”
The United States will continue to support the Palestinian people and their efforts to build the foundations of a future state. We have recently provided $695.7 million in assistance, including $200 million in budget support to the Palestinian Authority. The United States remains the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, providing more than $233 million in fiscal year 2012 and $113 million thus far in fiscal year 2013. We continue to support Palestinian aspirations for the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state.
We must all reinvigorate our common pursuit of a two-state solution and comprehensive peace, recognizing that, of course, challenges remain. Rockets launched by extremists from Gaza and the Sinai into Israel continue to undermine these efforts and threaten the safety and security of ordinary Israeli citizens. As President Obama made very clear in his recent remarks to both Israelis and Palestinians, we all know how tensions and provocations on the ground can escalate and damage efforts to achieve a two-state solution. We urge leaders to avoid provocations that complicate the resumption of peace negotiations and Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
Progress toward peace is urgently needed not only for Israelis and Palestinians but across the region and the world. This goal remains at the core of our efforts.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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