Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Envoy de Mistura, for your briefing. Staffan, on behalf of the United States, I express our sincere gratitude for your four and a half years of service as the UN envoy in Syria. We greatly appreciate your tireless effort that you put into this work and your efforts to bring peace and stability to Syria. We wish you all the best. The United States also looks forward to maintaining a close and constructive relationship with your successor Geir Pedersen as he assumes his role as the Special Envoy.
The United States remains committed to the permanent destruction of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and around the world. As we have said, we will use all instruments of our national power to press for a withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces. And, most importantly for today’s meeting, the United States will continue to advance a peaceful diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis in a way that honors the will of the Syrian people and is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We will continue to work together with our allies to fight terrorism. The United States will also work with likeminded states, the United Nations, and the Syrian opposition, to seek a diplomatic end to this conflict.
There is only one internationally agreed roadmap for achieving these goals. That is a political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with Resolution 2254. And the first step toward the implementation of 2254 is the creation of a new Syrian constitution.
In January, the Russian Federation, in close consultation with the United Nations, published the Sochi Declaration. The Declaration called for the creation of a Constitutional Committee in Geneva led by the UN Special Envoy as a contribution to re-invigorate UN efforts to implement Resolution 2254 that had stalled from a lack of genuine participation by the Assad regime.
The Sochi Declaration made clear that the Constitutional Committee’s 150-person membership would have equal representation among the regime, Syrian opposition, and independents, and that its scope of work, schedule, and voting procedures would be determined by the UN Special Envoy.
In no way was the Syrian regime to be given a veto over the membership or procedures of the Committee. Russia agreed that the UN would have the authority to manage the Committee in order to receive the imprimatur of legitimacy from and the attention of this Council as a credible Russian contribution to peace in Syria.
For 11 months, Russia’s so-called Sochi initiative has produced nothing but a stalemate. We are now just 11 days away from the end of the year and are rapidly approaching the Syrian regime’s and Russia’s last chance to follow through on this commitment.
In recent months, the United States, members of this Council, and the Syria Small Group, have worked tirelessly to support Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts to the launch a credible and balanced Constitutional Committee. The “Astana group” has failed thus far to convince the Assad regime to accept the UN’s balanced list of members for the Constitutional Committee that would have allowed the Committee to move forward. A Committee that is not balanced or representative of the Syrian people, including the opposition, cannot be considered legitimate.
Mr. President, progress toward a political solution to the conflict in line with Resolution 2254 is urgent, given the situation in Idlib. Idlib’s three million civilians have been able to live in relative peace thanks to Russian and Turkish efforts to de-escalate the violence and keep pressure on the regime to not launch an offensive. However, there are increasing indications of a potential military escalation Idlib despite the fragile ceasefire held together by the Turkish-Russian creation of a de-militarized zone. Mr. President, any military escalation in Idlib would be reckless and catastrophic for the millions people and for the stability of Syria’s neighbors.
We are at a crossroads that will define the end of the Syrian conflict. If Russia and the regime do not launch a legitimate, credible, and balanced Constitutional Committee before the end of the year, we should all place this failure squarely at their feet.
The United States is ready with our allies and partners in the Small Group to focus on supporting UN-led efforts to reinvigorate a political process. We also would work to further isolate the regime diplomatically and economically.
Let me be clear: there will be no reconstruction money; there will be no legitimacy for the regime; there will be no facilitation for returns of refugees – they will not be discussed or even considered until we get this political process moving.
The United States remains firmly committed to the blueprint for a political solution to the Syrian conflict agreed by Security Council Resolution 2254 to achieve peace and stability in Syria.
We look forward to working with the United Nations and with Special Envoy Geir Pedersen to create a permanent and peaceful end to this conflict.
Thank you, Mr. President.