Ambassador Power: So as you know, we just received a useful briefing from Special Coordinator Kaag. Ms. Kaag confirmed what has become increasingly clear: the Assad regime has fallen behind in complying with its international obligations to remove chemical agents and precursor chemicals from its soil. The Secretary General himself has affirmed that new equipment is not needed and that the Assad regime has the capability of eliminating the weapons stockpile.
So let me be clear: the Assad regime must immediately take the necessary steps to fulfill its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118. We know the regime has the ability to move these weapons and materials because they have moved them multiple times over the course of this conflict. It is time for the Assad government to stop its foot-dragging, establish a transportation plan, and stick to it. We urge all member-states with influence over the regime to persuade it to move forward with the transportation phase.
The rest of the international community is ready -- and has been ready -- to do its part. Denmark and Norway have had ships waiting off the coast of Syria since early January. Italy has readied its transloading facilities. And the U.S. ship, the CAPE RAY, will soon arrive in the Mediterranean. By delaying, the Assad regime is only increasing the costs to nations that have made donations for shipping, escorts, and other services related to the removal effort. But it also encouraging heightened risks that these weapons will be used again, by regime elements, or will fall into the hands of terrorists.
Even as we seek to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, the international community must continue to work against the daily horror and violence convulsing the country. Despite the Security Council’s October 5th presidential statement directing the Syrian government to facilitate humanitarian access, UN relief agencies and international NGOs are telling the world that they are largely unable to reach the 9.3 million Syrians in desperate need of assistance. This is not an “all parties” problem: the principal source of obstruction is the Syrian regime.
For too long, the Syrian government has combined indiscriminate violence – most recently through the daily use of barrel bombs in Aleppo – with a deliberate strategy of starvation and denial of medical supplies. President Assad’s utter disregard – almost contempt – for the welfare of his country’s people is glaringly obvious, and the need for a political solution to the crisis could not be more urgent. This Council must actively support the principle that all barriers preventing humanitarian access to all parts of the country and all civilians be removed immediately, as this Council urged with one voice in its October presidential statement. The United States will continue working towards that end.
And with that, I’d like to answer a couple of your questions.
Reporter: Can I ask you about the announcement that the UN has just made about a humanitarian agreement – nothing’s gone in or come out yet, but – in the old city of Homs?
Ambassador Power: Well, I think you put your finger on the most important feature of that agreement: nothing has gone in or out, yet. I note regime statements this morning describing a willingness to evacuate “innocents.” Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist – and has attacked them as such – you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical and, frankly, very concerned about anybody who falls into regime hands who comes from a part of the country that has been under opposition control. We would note that in Mouadimiya, where an evacuation was undertaken not long ago – several weeks ago – there are still men who were evacuated as part of that official evacuation who, in our view anyway, have not been heard from since. And we would have grave concerns, and would encourage anybody associated with this evacuation, to make sure that they are able to ascertain the welfare of anybody who comes out trusting the terms of such an agreement.
If I could just continue on this – I would also note that the old city of Homs, which has been under siege for well over a year, where the conditions are completely deplorable and utterly heartbreaking, is just one of the besieged areas that we’ve been raising with the regime. Our understanding is there are about 2,500 people in the old city of Homs. Maybe five to six hundred are being described as covered by this new deal. 250,000 people living across the country in besieged areas, in similar conditions, with no access to food, no access to medicine, no fuel. It’s an outrage. And while, again, any progress, when any single life is improved, when any single individual is able to depart conditions like that or get access to food, that’s better than the alternative. But I think we should not lose sight of the full picture here.
In addition to the 250,000 in besieged areas, you have more than 2 million people who are in, so-called “hard to reach areas.” In some cases, they’ve been reached once, in a year – and that’s considered “hard to reach” rather than “besieged.” So, the humanitarian context here is deplorable, and what the presidential statement has made very explicit is that all besieged areas need to be accessed; the barriers must be lifted across the board; and regime obstruction to starving people – and the regime use of starvation as a weapon of war – has got to stop.
Reporter: Thank you, ambassador. As Ambassador Churkin said yesterday, that the American vessel is not ready to be in the spot or do the job to destroy the chemical weapons. When is the American vessel will be ready? And two, are you still working on a draft resolution on the humanitarian problem in Syria? Are you going to circulate the draft any time soon?
Ambassador Power: Well, as I mentioned, our vessel is on its way to the Mediterranean and is going to be in a position to destroy chemical weapons. And just to correct the record, the arrival of the American vessel has nothing to do with the problem that we’re seeing on chemical weapons. The problem on chemical weapons is that the Syrian regime, although it has the resources and has everything it needs – as the Secretary General has said and has Sigrid Kaag, I think, has repeated here today – has foot-dragged, and is not moving forward in the way that the Security Council and the OPCW laid out that it should move forward.
So, the issue here is not about an American vessel. The issue is about Syrian foot-dragging. And we and our partners who have contributed resources to this effort are going to be positioned to destroy Priority 1 and Priority 2 chemicals as soon as they exit Syria, which they should have done already.
And on your second question, as I’ve described in giving even just a small taste of the deplorable conditions on the ground in Syria, which all of you are very familiar with, it is critical that the Security Council move forward in order to signal to the regime that humanitarian access is not optional, that it is required. And we are looking at a range of options. We do support a humanitarian resolution, as do most member-states of the United Nations, and we’re hopeful that something like that can be achieved.
Again, we had hoped that the presidential statement, which, you know, has the force of speaking on behalf of the Security Council, that that would have had some impact on regime behavior. That’s certainly what Valerie Amos and others, I think, had hoped as well. But if you look at their track record between October and where we are now – the beginning of February – there has been almost no improvement, almost no progress.
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