Remarks at the Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
New York City
September 26, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: (In progress) We’re deeply grateful, all of us, for your having played a critical role – the critical role in inviting us here, in bringing us here. And I’m very pleased that President Jarba of the Syrian Opposition Council is here with us in New York. I think it’s very fitting that President Jarba was raised in Al-Hasakah, because that’s a part of Syria where Arabs, Kurds, the Syrians, and Armenians learned from one another for centuries. That foundation for pluralism and partnership has tragically been torn apart by the conflict that is now ravaging the country, a conflict which even as we have moved to try to separate the chemical weapons, must imperatively demand all of our attention.

We have, all of us, come to know too well an Assad who kills indiscriminately, who bombs women and children, Scud missiles on hospitals, artillery destroying students in a university. Millions of people displaced, millions of people refugeed, huge tensions on the surrounding countries, all of it for Assad to stay in power – a man who has lost any legitimacy to govern.

President Jarba understands that Syria can have a different future. And he understands that Syria can be a nation defined not by this kind of chaos and personal ambition and recklessness, but defined by its rich history of diversity – not by the forces that are content to destroy them. And through our close partnership with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the legitimate representative, we believe, of the Syrian people, we can lay the foundation for a peaceful Syria where all Syrians have a say and a shape in a shared future.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition’s recent endorsement of Geneva 2 is a critical part of that effort, and I want to commend them for their support. I think almost everybody here has decided there is no military victory. Syria will implode long before any side could claim a military victory. And the fact is there is a process already in place, called Geneva 1, which our friends the Russians have signed on to, which calls for a transition government with quite detailed procedures about how you would have a constitutional process and election, and how Syrians would be able then to choose for the future of Syria. This is a transitional government that must be chosen by mutual consent. And there isn’t anybody in the world who believes that Assad would ever get the consent to be part of such a government.

So we need to move rapidly to put this process in place – a process which already calls for credible elections through that Geneva communique. So we intend to push very hard. We will have a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi this Friday. I hope we will get this Geneva conference moving. Not that we have an illusion that it may resolve itself in days or even weeks, or perhaps months, but that process must begin so that the world knows we’re paying attention to the crisis of Syria, that it’s unacceptable that it continue in its current status, and that there is a road forward providing that Assad and the people who support him are willing to embrace what the international community has already adopted.

As we invest in the political track, the United States of America will remain steadfast in our efforts to have an impact on the balance on the ground. And we will continue to support the opposition, hopefully thereby moving us closer to a negotiated settlement.

We’ve seen what we’re up against, and we understand the urgency of our working together. There is no way to turn our backs on the nature of the attack that took place on August 21st, an attack that took so many lives in the dead of night because Assad was prepared to use a weapon that has been outlawed and not used in time of war since 1925. That death toll is added to the death toll of already 100,000, and unless all of us make clear our determination to assist the Syrian Opposition Coalition and to help move towards Geneva, that death toll will be added to, with grim figures that could even reach to 200,000, before the international community has applied the lessons that we’ve learned.

After Rwanda, we said never again. After World War II, we said never again. I think the words “never again” need to have meaning. So as we go forward, I’m glad to say to you that this afternoon, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I reached an agreement, which we need to run by our colleagues, with respect to the potential of a resolution. And our hope is that the Security Council will pass a resolution that will make binding and enforceable the removal of the chemical weapons.

But none of us can approach this with an understanding or a belief that just removing the chemical weapons absolves us of our responsibility to deal with the humanitarian crisis, and frankly, a crisis of multilateralism, a crisis of international institutions. We must help bring about a negotiated solution.

We believe we have a strong partner in President Jarba as we pursue these efforts, and it’s our great hope that the pluralism and the partnership that once defined his homeland, the secularity that defines his homeland, will define Syria for all of its citizens in the years to come. And we will do everything in our power to help provide that foundation.

Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister.

PRN: 2013/1195