Ambassador Rice Press Conference on the April Program of Work for the UN Secuirty Council


AMBASSADOR RICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming. What I’d like to do is, as Mark said, go through the program of work, tell you a bit about what we plan for the month, make a few comments on Mali—which we discussed this morning in the Council and which I otherwise would have briefed you on but was briefing the non-members of the Council just now and then coming to see you here, so I thought we could kill two birds with one stone— and then, of course, take your questions, all before joining the Secretary-General at lunch with women PRs and senior women in the secretariat.

Let me go through the program of work as swiftly as I can. I hope you all have the latest version in front of you. I want to just highlight various agenda items without necessarily going through it in chronological order. Let me begin with the subject of the 19th of April, which is a session on nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and security. From the U.S. point of view, the greatest danger that we and all states around the world face is a nuclear weapon in—or nuclear material falling into—the hands of terrorists.

As you know, at the beginning of his Administration, President Obama put nuclear security and nonproliferation at the very center of our foreign policy agenda and set out concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons in his Prague speech three years ago this month. A crucial part of this effort was the adoption, as you will recall, of Resolution 1887 during the Security Council’s historic, summit-level event in September 2009, chaired by President Obama when we were first in the presidency of the Security Council. Resolution 1887 recognized the need for all states “to take effective measures to prevent nuclear material or technical assistance becoming available to terrorists.”

With the conclusion of the second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last month, it’s appropriate, we think, to take stock of international efforts on this issue. And so the goal of the upcoming Council session is to highlight global efforts to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism and to underscore the international community’s broadly shared interests and responsibilities to respond to these threats. It’s also an important opportunity to reinforce the Council’s support of the work of the IAEA as well as the importance of each UN member-state implementing Resolution 1540 to prevent proliferation of WMD and related materials.

I also want to point to the event on the week—the day—of April 25th, the following week, in which there will be an open debate on the illicit flow of materials, goods, and people. The title of the event is Threats to Peace – International Peace and Security: Securing Borders Against Illicit Flows. And the Security Council has consistently identified, through its resolutions and presidential statements, how such transfers—whether we’re talking about WMD, small arms, drugs, terrorists, even human trafficking—can fuel some of the most critical threats to international peace and security and trigger instability; that these threats, these flows, we often look at in a sort of stovepipe fashion—each individual threat—and we have instruments, both in the secretariat and in some of the specialized agencies, that are designed to assist states that need assistance and want assistance to build their capacity to deal with each of these threats, whether it’s drug flows or terrorism or what have you.

And we have the CTED, we have the 1540 Committee, we have sanctions panels of experts, we have UNODC—all essentially trying to assist states to build their capacity to deal with the same essential problem. Whether—whatever the good or person that is being transferred across borders, it is in fact securing borders. It’s building the capacity of states to control what’s coming in and out of their sovereign territory. And so we wanted to look at this issue from a more holistic point of view and to see these efforts, these mechanisms, and these challenges as part of a larger whole.

And while there are substantial bilateral, regional, and multilateral efforts under way to help states develop effective customs and immigration systems or to foster enforcement and intelligence cooperation, the Security Council has never undertaken a comprehensive effort to consider how the UN structures can most effectively support states in addressing illicit trafficking.

So this session will provide the Council with an opportunity to hear from the Secretary-General, who will also brief on the 19th on nonproliferation and nuclear security, and we’ll hear about the structures that the UN has to help states accomplish better control of their borders. And we’ll consider in a PRST asking the secretariat to provide us with a better understanding of what the current structures are and how they might be strengthened and streamlined to better support member-states.

Let me turn to some other items on the agenda. Throughout the month, we’ll have at least a couple of sessions on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan, which, as you know, remain high on the Council’s agenda. On the 11th, the Council will get a briefing—which may shift potentially, but we’ll see—by the head of mission and force command of UNISFA on the situation in Abyei. On the 26th, we’ll hear from Under-Secretary-General Ladsous on Darfur, and we will remain ready as a Council throughout the month to address the situation between Sudan and South Sudan, which, as you know, is quite fragile and volatile at the moment, as needed.

With respect to Syria, obviously that remains an important perennial on our agenda. We had the briefing yesterday by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. We heard that the regime has apparently committed to begin and to complete by April 10th the cessation of all forward deployments, the use of heavy weapons, and to withdraw its forces from populated areas.

The Security Council is now working on a draft presidential statement, which we introduced this morning as a presidential text—it will be negotiated today and probably tomorrow—which is essentially aimed at trying to give support—further support—to Joint Special Envoy Annan’s initiatives and to underscore the central importance of the Syrian Government adhering to its commitment to halt all offensive actions by April 10th. And I’m sure we can return to that in question-and-answer.

But let me say that from the U.S. point of view—and I think the point of view of many member-states – what we have seen since April 1st is not encouraging and that, should the Government of Syria use this window rather than to de-escalate to intensify the violence, it will be most unfortunate, and it will be certainly our view that the Security Council will need to respond to that failure in a very urgent and serious way. We will be talking with Joint Special Envoy Annan about the potential to have him return to brief the Council soon after April 10th so we can have an update and proceed accordingly.

Quickly, let me also mention that on the 24th we have a session on women, peace, and security, where UN Women head Michelle Bachelet will brief the Council—so her semi-annual briefing—and she’ll be joined by Under-Secretary-General Ladsous. We are eager for the opportunity to do this, given, as you know, that President Obama has launched a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and has built a foundation for powerful change in the way that the world prevents war and makes peace, bringing the role of women to the front and center of that.

Let me turn to one other point, and that relates to young people. We think—the United States thinks—that it’s very important for the Council to bring the voices of half the world’s population, those under 25, more directly and immediately into the work of the Security Council. It’s the lives of young people that are being shaped by what we do or don’t do every day, and in so many ways, they have the greatest stake in the work we do. That’s why 15 months ago, when the U.S. last held the presidency of the Security Council, we organized what was an unusual, even unprecedented, opportunity for young people to participate in a discussion with members of the Security Council on what they viewed—these are young people from around the world—what they viewed as the most pressing issues facing the world and indeed the Council today.

This time around, we want to return to the theme of youth and do it in a somewhat different way. So I hope over the course of the month, you’ll be seeing a few younger faces around the halls, including in the Council itself. We’ll be partnering with high schools, universities, and NGOs to invite younger people, young audiences, to come to open sessions of the Security Council. We’ll be organizing a special program for young journalists that I hope will be of particular interest to you. We’ll be inviting them to come to the UN to report on what we believe is an issue of critical importance to young people and their generation, which is, of course, the issue of proliferation of nuclear materials and nuclear weapons technology. We’re going to draw young people from area schools but also from several Council member-states who will able to participate via video.

We will—hope that you will take some time to join us in engaging with these young journalists, encouraging them while they’re here, and if they happen to break a story ahead of you, that you don’t let professional jealousy get in the way of bringing up the next generation.

Finally, as we close, I will take, at the end of our press conference, one question that has been selected among many that were submitted via Twitter, and the question comes from a handle entitled @freeppl. And the question I’ll answer at the end is: Why are you not acting swiftly towards the killing in Syria like you did in Libya? But I’ll come back to that at the end.

Let me say a few quick points on Mali and then open it up for questions. This is the readout of our session this morning. We heard a briefing from Under-Secretary-General Pascoe on the situation in Mali. Mr. Pascoe told the Council that the situation has taken a turn for the worse over the course of the past several days. The MNLA and Ansar al-Din groups have capitalized on the confusion caused by the military seizure of power in Bamako and key towns, including in Timbuktu, and these towns in the north have fallen to the rebels. And Pascoe reported that government forces are effectively abandoning their positions in the north without much of a fight.

The Council is working on a PRST on this topic as well, which we hope will be issued as soon as possible. We heard from Under-Secretary-General Pascoe that ECOWAS, as you well know, has imposed measures as of yesterday including border closures, blocking access to financial accounts of junta members, and a travel ban, among other steps. And he also reported that ECOWAS has placed a force of some 3,000 troops on standby, both to respond, if necessary, to the coup d’etat as well as to respond to the rebellion that is of grave concern in the north. Pascoe also noted that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating and underlined that IDPs have increased to 90,000 and refugees to 130,000.

Council members were united in their demand that the junta leaders immediately step down and restore constitutional order.

Let me stop there and take your questions. Mark.

MODERATOR: Let’s start with the UNCA president.

QUESTION: Madam President, (inaudible) on behalf of United Nations Correspondent Association, thank you for coming. I have this question: Do you think that the announcement by the Friends of Syria that they’re going to help the opposition will—could interfere with the mission of the—and timetable of—Kofi Annan? And if not, why?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Sir, I just want to be sure I understood the question. Did—

QUESTION: The announcement done in Istanbul of the Friends of Syria could interfere with the mission and timetable of Kofi Annan? And if it’s not, why?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I assume you’re asking me that in my national capacity? (Laughter)

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

AMBASSADOR RICE: In my national capacity, the answer is no. We don’t think it interferes in any way. The Friends of Democratic Syria very much expressed and underscored their support for the work of the Joint Special Envoy and his Six-Point Plan.

The Syrian Government has a decision to make. It’s made a commitment to accept the Annan Plan. It has further committed to halt all offensive military operations by April 10th. In the meantime, it is thus far not doing so—arguably, quite the opposite. And that has nothing to do with what was done and said in Istanbul. That is a pattern that this regime has pursued over the course of more than a year, where it has used excessive and outrageous force against its own people.

The Friends of Democratic Syria recognize that, against the overwhelming force that is being inflicted on the people of Syria, the opposition, which is far less capable of defending itself, needs political support. And some members also have agreed to enhance material support, including the provision of financial support to elements of the opposition. And we, the United States, as you know, are providing not only a doubling of our humanitarian assistance to $25 million but also communications equipment and related non-lethal support to strengthen the cohesion of the opposition.

QUESTION: Madam President, a question.

AMBASSADOR RICE: You only get to say that every 15 months with the current Council (inaudible) (Laughter)

QUESTION: I would follow up on—I would follow up on Syria by asking—you mentioned initially that if there is an escalation, that the Council would need to respond in a very serious way. Could you give us some indication of what you would envision, any kind of sanctions? And do you think that they would have—even a threat of sanctions would have a more reasonable chance of being adopted if this failed?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, it’s the hope—although I wouldn’t say the expectation—of members of the Council that, indeed, when we review this situation after April 10th, that the violence will have ceased on the part of the government, and we will be in a realm of considering how the Council can reinforce that halt to the violence. But the reality is that that’s not been the pattern thus far, and indeed from a national point of view, the United States is concerned and quite skeptical that the Government of Syria will suddenly adhere to its commitments.

In the event that it does not, we will be certainly consulting with colleagues on the Security Council as to what are appropriate next steps. It’s no secret that the Council has been divided in the past on actions that it might take to halt the violence in Syria. What we hope may be different now is that we are now united around the initiative of Joint Special Envoy Annan. The Council has endorsed the Six Point Plan. Hopefully, we will also endorse what we were told yesterday. And in that context, should the Syrian regime continue its violence, we hope that that would create a climate that would be perhaps improved over the past in which all member-states see the wisdom of delivering not just a strong message but strong actions that might change the calculus of the government in Damascus.

QUESTION: Ambassador, did Mr. Annan say that the Syrian Government has agreed to a cessation of hostilities? My understanding is not, from those three points. But if they carry out these three points, it would be—the envoy would go to the opposition and call on them to carry out a cessation of hostilities.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Yeah. I said a halt to offensive actions. If you take the three elements of the Secretary-General’s proposal—the withdrawal of forces from populated areas, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, no further advances, etc.—that amounts to the government halting its side of the military activity, the offensive military action. The Joint Special Envoy was clear that the subsequent step would be to prevail upon the opposition within 48 hours to reciprocate in halting violence on its side. And at that point, he was asking that the Council be ready, should that both steps occur, to swiftly consider endorsing the dispatch of a monitoring mechanism.

QUESTION: You just said that the government can stop offensive action and the rebels, violence. Do you see the rebels as a completely defensive force to protect civilians, or are they an offensive force to overthrow Asad? And if they are, what incentive would they have to stop fighting when they have millions of dollars in the pipeline?

AMBASSADOR RICE: You’re parsing my words more carefully than I intended them to be parsed. I’m making a very simple point and speaking—literally trying to relay what it is that we understood Mr. Annan to be explaining to the Council yesterday. The first step is for the government to implement elements A through C of his plan under Item 2, which are—which amount to halting, as I’ve described, further military action against populated areas—and then for the opposition, as a subsequent step, to halt all violence on its side. I wasn’t attempting to characterize—put a moral character on either set of—

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Are they purely defensive, or are they offensive and trying to overthrow Asad, or they (inaudible) protect the civilians? And if they’re trying to overthrow Asad, why would they stop when they’ve got millions of dollars coming?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, let me—I’ll answer that in my national capacity. From the U.S. point of view, we’ve taken the view that this began, obviously, as a peaceful expression of popular will among a large swath of the people of Syria against a government that it viewed as repressive. The government’s response was to use unrelenting and overwhelming and indiscriminate force over the course of more than a year. And during that time, what began as a very peaceful civil protest has evolved in part, not in whole because that still exists—the peaceful civilian aspect of it—into opposition elements taking up arms in self-defense.

And we’ve been very clear that while we want the violence to cease, we understand that in the face of such overwhelming violence directed by the state against its people, that it is to be expected, and that eventually, people will take the steps necessary to defend themselves. Now, what the subsequently evolves into, I’m not prepared to predict. We’ve said very clearly that this is a very worrisome and volatile situation, we want to see an end to the violence, we don’t want to see this descend further into all-out civil conflict, and that is among the reasons why we and others are supporting the diplomatic efforts of Joint Special Envoy Annan.

QUESTION: Thank you. Annan has been speaking about the urgency of deploying the monitoring mission in Syria. Do you think that you can really deploy monitors without a resolution? And how fast are you going to act to adopt a resolution if you needed to? And what should the Security Council also do about the ramifications of the refugee issues in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, with respect to the second question on refugees, that, as you know, falls under the broader rubric of the humanitarian situation, about which the Council has expressed concern. But we are looking to the humanitarian agencies, both UN and regional or indigenous, to try to address the very serious and growing problem of refugees outside of Syria. UNHCR obviously has the lead from the UN point of view with respect to that.

On the monitoring mission, I don’t—I think there may be some confusion at least implied in your question. Joint Special Envoy Annan has not asked the Council to endorse a monitoring mission today or yesterday or tomorrow. And nobody that I’m aware of expects that that can be accomplished without a resolution. It would be an observer mission, however small it begins. And so there will need to be a resolution. I think all Council members think that you cannot send unarmed military observers into a hot conflict, as is the custom of the United Nations around the world, and we need a cessation of the violence and one that’s credible for unarmed monitors or observers to be able to effectively deploy and operate.

So what Joint Special Envoy Annan was asking for is that the Council be in close communication and coordination with the Secretariat, that at the appropriate time the Secretariat will present proposals to the Council, and then the Council will be ready to respond swiftly at—

when that time comes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and I thought that there were already eight sort of members of an advanced monitoring mission headed to the country this week. I mean, isn’t there a sort of an advanced piece of this monitoring mission that’s already beginning without a Security Council resolution?


QUESTION: And also, just more broadly in terms of—as a U.S. representative, if you can give us a sense of what the Americans are thinking about beyond the commitments that were made in Istanbul—beyond the communications, night goggles, and things like that—what the U.S. is considering doing to support the opposition.

AMBASSADOR RICE: The first one was—

QUESTION: The first question was I thought that the plan was—our mantra in this—


QUESTION: --or at least go ahead with an advanced team.

AMBASSADOR RICE: First of all, I think it’s six. It’s not an advanced team. It’s a second iteration of a planning team. So you may recall a couple weeks ago, there were—maybe it wasn’t even as long as a couple weeks ago—there were folks from DPKO as well as from the Joint Special Envoy’s personal team, his office, that went to Damascus to have technical talks with the government about the modalities of a potential monitoring mechanism.

My understanding is that another iteration of that team, perhaps with a somewhat different composition, will go back to continue those discussions with the government and, to the extent possible, with the opposition so that they—that information and planning can inform DPKO’s, and ultimately, the Secretary-General’s proposals to the Council when that—if and when that is appropriate.

And with respect --

QUESTION: But they’re not going to come back. I mean, they’re staying there permanently though, aren’t they?

AMBASSADOR RICE: That’s—no, that’s not my expectation or understanding, as briefed to us yesterday.

With respect to the United States and our approach, we’ve been very clear that the outrageous violence that Asad is committing against his people make him unfit to continue to govern. And we believe, as you heard many of us say, that his time is limited. We think that the best approach now is rather than to fuel additional violence, is to increase the pressure of all forms on Asad to meet the commitments that he’s made. The pressure that the United States and many countries in the region, the EU and others, have imposed is economic, and we have stepped up the sanctions, both on a national basis over the last several days and in coordination with other states. We think that’s vitally important.

We’ve also said that it’s necessary for there to be accountability. And we have put in place the beginnings of what would be an accountability clearinghouse, in which we provide assistance and support to train Syrians to gather evidence that might be used down the road to provide a legal basis for accountability.

We are also increasing our support to the people of Syria through humanitarian assistance. We are working actively, diplomatically, and politically to help the opposition develop a more coherent approach, both internally and externally. As part of that, we have contributed and are contributing certain forms of nonlethal assistance, including enhanced communication support. This is all part of a larger effort to enable the opposition to be in a position at the appropriate time to negotiate and to chart its own future.

QUESTION: Should April 10th come and go and then there’s tanks on the ground, to put it lightly, how long is the Security Council going to give Annan before declaring that particular diplomatic avenue dead?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I’m not really going to get into a hypothetical debate. There are many different ways the situation could unfold on the 10th or thereafter. I think, as has been the case from the start, there will be differing views among members of the Security Council as to how to approach any number of different contingencies. From the U.S. point of view, we’ve been clear that we think that it’s vitally important that that deadline, which in our view is already too long, must be real and be credible and be adhered to. And if it’s not, we will certainly be consulting with our colleagues in the Council about what appropriate next steps are.

But we are united around the view that the work that Joint Special Envoy Annan is doing is very important. We support it, and we think, as difficult as the diplomatic terrain is—and he would be the first to acknowledge that—that supporting him is the wise and best course.

MODERATOR: So in keeping with a hundred percent of all of your questions, the Twitter question is also on Syria and is: Why are you not acting swiftly towards the killing in Syria, like you did in Libya?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Yeah. We – let me be very clear because I’m supposed to be at a luncheon with the Secretary-General in (inaudible)—I don’t know if I should believe the Tokyo clock or the New York clock (laughter)—but seven or eight minutes, so I’m happy to answer a Sudan question. I will also answer the Twitter question at the end, but please understand that I’m not trying to be rude. But I’m trying to accommodate all these different requirements in one morning.

And we take – who’s offering the Sudan question?

MODERATOR: Go ahead on Sudan, and then --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) situation between the two Sudans. What’s your assessment? How close are we to a full-scale war? And the second part of that question is what’s your assessment, your evaluation, of the mediation as was led by former President Thabo Mbeki?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Again, I will speak in my national capacity. The United States is deeply concerned about the growing violence, the escalation in fighting, along the Sudan-South Sudan border and, indeed, within Southern Kordofan. We have urged both sides to halt the violence, to return to negotiations in a spirit of seriousness, and resolve the many underlying issues related not only to Southern Kordofan but relations between Sudan and South Sudan that are at the heart of this conflict.

You may have noticed that our diplomacy included a conversation yesterday between President Obama and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan. Special Envoy Princeton Lyman continues his very intensive efforts to support the mediation process that is ongoing in Addis Ababa. On a national basis, as well as in the Council, we have leant our strong support to the efforts of the AU High Level Implementation Panel under Kofi—excuse me, under Thabo Mbeki.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: I just want to ask you this: You said that, as to President Asad of Syria, that he’s unfit to govern because he’s killed his people and all these things. It seems to some that the U.S. and certainly the Security Council is calling on the opposition in Sudan to not seek regime change, to disarm, to become part of the Darfur process in other ways. So what’s the difference, given that Omar Al-Bashir, Ahmed Haroun, the defense minister, they’ve all been indicted for war crimes and genocide and crimes against humanity. Is—what’s the difference in terms of asking—telling the opposition not to seek a change of government in the same way you do elsewhere?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, our policy in Syria is that this should be resolved, if possible, through a negotiated, Syrian-led, political process that results in a democratic dispensation for the people of Syria. That’s quite similar to our view as to what is the optimal outcome in the context of Sudan, where there has been war and fighting for generations, and it has not led to greater freedom or greater security for many of the people of Sudan.

The challenge of Southern Kordofan and indeed Blue Nile is inherently a political one, as both sides recognize in the context of the CPA. The problem is that the government in Khartoum has decided not to deal with this at the negotiating table, and so they are facing an intensified rebellion. But the prescriptions are analogous. And yes, we have been at the forefront of demanding justice and accountability for genocide and war crimes committed by President Bashir and many around him, and that remains a central part of U.S. policy.

Let me end—

MODERATOR: We do need to take our last question. Sorry.

AMBASSADOR RICE: So the question that we received—Mark, would you read it again?

MODERATOR: Yeah. One more time. This is from @freeppl, so “free people:” Why are you not acting swiftly towards the killing in Syria like you did in Libya?

AMBASSADOR RICE: And I take that as, in the first instance, directed at the Security Council. And I think, as is well known, and I will say for the benefit of the folks at @freeppl, that the Security Council has been shamefully and woefully divided on the issue of Syria and unable to adopt a resolution that even would entail relatively modest action.

In the case of Libya, we had Resolution 1970, which imposed strong sanctions and made a referral of Qadhafi to the International Criminal Court. And then we had 1973, which was a result of the regional group, the Arab League, making a request to the Security Council for intervention and the Council coming together to authorize protection of civilians and a no-fly zone.

The circumstances in Syria are quite different, and indeed the circumstances in various countries within the Arab world have evolved in a different way. There’s no such request from the Arab League. There’s no such unity in the Security Council. And indeed the circumstances on the ground are quite a bit different and more complex, with an opposition that is struggling to unify, that doesn’t control a clear and geographically identified swath of territory, as was the case in the east in Libya.

And therefore, very regrettably and much to the frustration of the United States and many others in the international community, the Security Council, the international community, has not been able to respond robustly and swiftly as we have sought and even to go to the step of implementing meaningful sanctions. But we will keep at it.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.