Remarks on Syria Following a Security Council Stakeout

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
May 8, 2012

(As Delivered)

Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The United States has been clear that we want the United Nations mission to succeed. But we have been equally clear that the onus remains on the Syrian regime to create the conditions for that success. And thus far, it is plain that the Syrian regime has not implemented fully any of the six points of the Joint Special Envoy’s Six Point Plan.

As the Joint Special Envoy just briefed the Council, unacceptable levels of violence and abuse are continuing. While the use of heavy weapons has declined somewhat in recent days, we have seen an increase in other forms of violence, as scores continue to be killed each and every day. The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Asad regime and on Asad himself to step down. We support international efforts to broker a political solution that ends the violence and facilitates a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. We also support efforts to strengthen the opposition, which we are ourselves contributing to and to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Let me close by thanking the brave UN monitors and civilians who are on the ground, operating in very risky and dangerous circumstances. We appreciate their service and their efforts.

Happy to take a couple questions.

Reporter: Ambassador, you just said that the U.S. is focused on continuing increasing of pressure on the Asad regime and for Asad himself to step down, whereas the plan that you are supporting through Kofi Annan would require Kofi Annan to even go to speak to President Asad and have him still in the position of appointing an interlocutor. You’re supporting that plan, and you make that statement. I’m confused.

Ambassador Rice: I don’t think there’s any reason for confusion. The United States policy has been and remains that the Asad regime has lost all legitimacy, and he should step down. And we think that the logical outcome of faithful implementation of the Annan plan, particularly its political transition provisions, will be a democratic dispensation -- or would be, if it were implemented -- a democratic dispensation in Syria, in which the outcome would be a change of government. So, we don’t see any contradiction in that. Obviously, however, we are not putting all of our eggs only in one basket. We have implemented very significant economic pressures on a national basis. We have collaborated with other countries in the region and beyond that are doing the same. We are increasing our support to unify and strengthen the opposition through non-lethal assistance. We’re stepping up our humanitarian assistance. And we continue to put in place mechanisms that will enable accountability for the crimes that have been created -- that have been committed. And so we see all of these as mutually reinforcing of our larger policy goal.

Reporter: Ambassador Rice, Special Envoy Annan mentioned that he’s willing to hear better ideas given that the mission is not going very well. Have those ideas been discussed? And really what are we waiting for to pull the plug on this mission, given that there seems to be a general consensus that it really isn’t going anywhere?

Ambassador Rice: Well, first of all, I’ve not had the opportunity to hear what Mr. Annan said to the press. I did hear what he said in the Council, and he didn’t speak to that question. Our view has been very clear that, while we want to see this mission succeed, while we very much support the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Annan, the onus is on the government of Syria -- the Syrian regime -- to meet its commitments, which it has not done fully across the spectrum of the Six-Point Plan. I do think, though, that the picture is somewhat mixed. There has been some improvement in the security situation to the extent that heavy weapons are not being fired as consistently at civilians, but the fact that they may be trained on them or that they have resorted to other forms of violence remains of grave concern. So we’re obviously going to want to make very clear, as we have repeatedly, to the Syrian regime, that it is on them first and foremost to comply and to implement this plan. And if they do not, we’ve been very clear -- and I reiterated in the Security Council this morning -- our readiness to look at other means of increasing the pressure on the Syrian regime to comply with the plan, including potentially coming back to this Council for further measures.

Reporter: Ambassador, is there -- are there any other members of the Council that are also looking at further action? And is there any movement on that front?

Ambassador Rice: I can’t speak for other members of the Council. I think you can ask them that.

Reporter: Do you see support for coming back to the Council for something else?

Ambassador Rice: I think that depends on how the situation evolves. There are clearly a number of members of the Council who share our very grave concern that the situation on the ground is not improving rapidly enough and substantially enough and that the violence is persisting. And I think there are a number of members that share the view that, should that persist, we’re all going to have to look at what additional steps are required. And indeed our own resolutions say just that. So -- but I don’t know exactly how many countries will come to the conclusion that that day is tomorrow or a week from now or two months from now. We’ll have to see how the situation unfolds. What we were briefed on today is a different situation than we were briefed on a couple of weeks ago.

Reporter: The Syrian government keeps saying that they’re facing terrorism or foreign fighters. The ambassador just waived around a CD saying that these are confessions of foreign fighters, and he said that, if Al Qaeda attacks the United States, immediately people come to the Council but that the same thing should happen in this case. Is that totally specious? Are there any foreign fighters involved and what do you say about it? And I’m going to ask you one more thing about Guinea Bissau, I’m sorry to say, since it’s on the Council’s agenda --

Ambassador Rice: Hold on. Because Guinea Bissau and Syria are far apart, so let’s take them one at a time. With respect to the challenge of terrorism and foreign fighters, I don’t think anybody can say with complete certainty that there are not any foreign fighters in Syria. I mean we’ve seen—frankly seen foreign fighters in Syria -- transit Syria -- for years on their way into Iraq, and there may be a flow in the opposite direction. But this is substantially a diversion from the main point. The main point is that the government continues to kill its own people, and having done so over the course of more than a year, it has created a situation in which people have taken up arms to defend themselves. Peaceful protesters and those who set out to address their concerns through peaceful means continue to do so. But there are some who have taken up arms in self-defense. And there are some who may be taking advantage of what is increasingly a violent and chaotic situation, who have extremist motivations and who may be doing this for reasons that have nothing to do with the aspirations of the peaceful protesters. And on Guinea Bissau?

Reporter: Very briefly. Some are saying that what the Council would consider doing or what ECOWAS is doing is essentially rewarding coups leaders -- that there was a coup and that now the plan is to give them 12 months to make a transition and then have elections that were supposed to have already been held right about now. Does the U.S. support the ECOWAS plan and how does that comport with its commitment to democracy elsewhere?

Ambassador Rice: Well the United States has been very clear in condemning the coup. We have imposed sanctions on those who have committed the coup, and now Guinea Bissau’s assistance is suspended pursuant to U.S. law. Our position on this and other situations where a government is overthrow by force is that that is completely unacceptable. We’ve said as a Council that there could potentially be consequences, including potentially sanctions on the coup regime. So, we’re going to continue in partnership with others to increase the pressure on the regime and work toward the swiftest possible restoration of a democratic government.