Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon, everyone. I wanted just to say a few words about the U.S. drafted resolution that was unanimously adopted this morning. Resolution 2104 reflects the Secretary-General’s request to give UNISFA the personnel and resources it needs to protect civilians and promote security in Abyei while deploying rapidly in support of the Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mechanism. We of course have been very active in our support of sustained peace between Sudan and South Sudan, and we view this border force and indeed the role they’re playing in particular in Abyei as critical to enhancing security and stability along the border.
But, obviously, only a lasting solution to the final status of Abyei can end the recurring cycle of violence. The United States remains fully committed to the AU High Level Implementation Panel’s September 21 proposal, which represents a fair, equitable, and workable solution to the status of Abyei, and we urge the immediate engagement between President Kiir and President Bashir on that proposal.
We also remain gravely concerned about the violence and the complex humanitarian crisis in the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, including and especially the ongoing indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces of civilian targets. Sudan’s refusal to allow international humanitarian access to the Two Areas is also wholly unacceptable.
The United States is deeply concerned by President Bashir’s recent comments that he may shut down the oil pipeline if South Sudan continues its support of the SPLM-North. We encourage Sudan to stay committed to an inclusive peace process with the SPLM-North that addresses the root causes of the conflict. We also call on both parties to implement the September 2012 agreements on oil, security, trade, nationality, and economic issues immediately and without precondition. And of course, very importantly, Sudan and South Sudan must respect each other’s sovereignty and bring an end immediately to proxy support of militia groups on both sides of the border.
I’m happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: If you wanted—I wasn’t going to ask you a Sudan question.
Ambassador Rice: Oh, come on, Edie…
Reporter: No, I was going to ask you about Syria chemical weapons. The British said today that they have been sending additional information about alleged chemical weapons attacks to the Secretary-General, and I wondered whether the United States has also been sending additional information or information that it’s obtained about alleged attacks to the United Nations. And how concerned are you?
Ambassador Rice: Well, I think you know we have had the opportunity now twice to brief Mr. Sellstrom and his team, including a few weeks ago in Washington where he had the opportunity to sit with U.S. experts and to hear our best understanding of the information available to us at that time. And we continue to be in communication with the UN team that is to investigate the use—or the potential use—of chemical weapons. We’ll continue to provide relevant information as time goes on. We’re very obviously interested in the mission having the ability to enter Syria—unfettered, with complete access, and able to conduct a comprehensive investigation into any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use. And we’re not surprised but indeed disappointed that the Syrians have reneged on their initial willingness to admit that investigative team, and thus, the investigation remains stalled.
Reporter: Thanks. Sticking to the subject of Syria—some people are saying that this Syria peace conference that Russia and the U.S. are trying to organize might not happen until July. Do you have any sense of how things are going, and what are the snags that are holding it up?
Ambassador Rice: Well, Lou, the timing obviously has not been firmly determined. We’re working with the United Nations, which will chair the conference, as well as, obviously, the Russians and other key partners on trying to facilitate the start of what we call a Geneva II conference. However, both with the countries that may participate as well as with the government and the opposition, there remain outstanding questions and issues as to whether they will participate, who will participate, and in what timeframe they’ll be ready to do so. So, Secretary Kerry, as you know, has been working very hard on this, as has the entire foreign policy apparatus of the United States government, alongside other key partners, and we’ll continue to do so with the aim of bringing the parties back to the negotiating table to implement Geneva I. And in particular, the goal is to establish a transitional governing body with full executive authority on the basis of mutual consent between the two parties.
Reporter: On Abyei, South Sudan ambassador Francis Deng had said that he spoke to the force commander of UNIFSA who didn’t understand it to be his duty to protect civilians from the Misseriya, only from governmental forces. And he said that the written mandate is clear, but that there seems to be some problem in implementing it. Do you think that this resolution will actually lead to the kind of incident that targeted the paramount chief or that targets people in Abyei? And also, there’s a report of Chad having pursued JEM rebels through Darfur into Southern Kordofan. I don’t know if that is something the U.S. is aware of. Do you think it’s actually happening? Are you aware of that?
Ambassador Rice: I can’t comment on the latter allegation. But let me say with respect to the UNIFSA mandate—first of all, the United States very strongly supports UNIFSA, and we’re grateful for the very valuable contributions that Ethiopia and other contributors have made to that mission. And we’re pleased that among the provisions of resolution 2104 is the expansion of UNIFSA such that it will be able to carry out not only its responsibilities in Abyei but support the Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mechanism.
We discussed in our consultations on the topic of UNIFSA a couple weeks ago the question of whether there was any ambiguity in the mandate about the nature and scope of the protection of civilians requirement. The Secretariat affirmed that it is their understanding and, indeed, it is clear to UNIFSA that indeed protection of civilians means protection of civilians against a threat from wherever it may materialize. Nevertheless, we thought it wise to take the opportunity of the mandate renewal to underscore that and make plain that the Council’s expectations are, as you will see in the mandate, that protection of civilians entails protection no matter what the source of the violence against them.
Reporter: (inaudible) the Russian foreign minister had very harsh words about the Geneva resolution condemning Assad, the Assad regime. Is this the end of—does this show some divisions between the United States and Russia that were glossed over by the idea of a peace conference? And just to follow up on Lou’s comment, is the opposition in any way open, as far as you see, to going to the Geneva II conference?
Ambassador Rice: Well, let me say, in the first instance, with regard to the resolution that’s being discussed and considered today in the Human Rights Council, obviously the United States strongly supports that resolution. We have long been of the view that the Human Rights Council is the appropriate place to deal with gross violations of human rights, and they are indeed occurring and intensifying in Syria as we speak. And the resolution focuses in particular on what’s transpired in recent days in Al Qusayr. So, we think that that is the appropriate role of the Human Rights Council. We think that the resolution is appropriate. And I won’t speak for the Russians. They may have their own views. But we certainly don’t see a resolution in the Human Rights Council, which is part of routine business, as in any way undermining or detracting from the goal of bringing the two parties together in Geneva II—the purpose there being a peaceful resolution—a peaceful negotiated resolution—to this conflict, which would be the best and perhaps only way to end the human rights abuses that we are witnessing and are horrified by in Syria.
With respect to the opposition’s participation, that is something obviously that remains under discussion within and among the opposition elements. We continue to be engaged with them, even as they meet in Istanbul, and it remains to be seen how it will resolve itself.
Thank you all very much.
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