Remarks at the United Nations Security Council

John Kerry
Secretary of State
New York City
September 27, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

Thank you very much, and thank you, Mr. Secretary General, distinguished minister members of the Security Council.

Five weeks ago, the world saw rows upon rows of murdered children lying on a hospital floor alone or beside slain parents, all wrapped in un-bloodied burial shrouds. And the world’s conscience was shocked, but our collective resolved hardened. Tonight, with a strong, enforceable, precedent-setting resolution requiring Syria to give up its chemical weapons, the United Nations Security Council has demonstrated that diplomacy can be so powerful, it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war.

So tonight, we are declaring together, for the first time, that the use of chemical weapons, which the world long ago determined beyond the bounds of acceptable human behavior, are also a threat to international peace and security anywhere they might be used, anytime they might be used, under any circumstances. As a community of nations, we reaffirm our responsibility to defend the defenseless, those whose lives remain at risk every day that anyone believes they can use weapons of mass destruction with impunity. Together, the world, with a single voice for the first time, is imposing binding obligations on the Assad regime requiring it to get rid of weapons that have been used to devastating effect as tools of terror. This important resolution reflects what President Obama and President Putin and colleagues around the world set out to do.

I want to thank Foreign Minister Lavrov for his personal efforts and cooperation, beginning before Geneva and continuing through this week, so that we could find common ground. I also want to thank my good friends and counterparts, Foreign Secretary Hague and Foreign Minister Fabius, who have been partners every step of the way.

Our original objective was to degrade and deter Syria’s chemical weapons capability, and the option of military force that President Obama has kept on the table could have achieved that. But tonight’s resolution, in fact, accomplishes even more. Through peaceful means, it will for, the first time, seek to eliminate entirely a nation’s chemical weapons capability, and in this case specifically Syria’s. On-site inspections of the places that these weapons are stored will begin by November, and under the terms of this agreement, those weapons will be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year.

Our aim was also to hold the Assad regime publicly accountable for its horrific use of chemical weapons against its own people on August 21st. And this resolution makes clear that those responsible for this heinous act must be held accountable.

In this resolution, the Council has, importantly, endorsed the Geneva Communique, which calls for a transfer of power to a transitional governing body, paving the way for democratic elections and a government that can be chosen by the people of Syria to represent the people of Syria.

We sought a legally binding resolution, and that is what the Security Council has adopted. For the first time since Syria’s civil war began, the Security Council is spelling out in detail what Syria must do to comply with its legal obligations. Syria cannot select or reject the inspectors. Syria must give those inspectors unfettered access to any and all sites and to any and all people.

We also wanted a resolution that would be enforced. And again, that is what the Security Council has adopted. We are here because actions have consequences. And now, should the regime fail to act, there will be consequences. Progress will be reported back to the Security Council frequently, and in the event of noncompliance, the Council will impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Just two weeks ago, when the Syrian regime would not even acknowledge the vast supply of chemical weapons and say that they existed, this outcome, frankly, would have been utterly unimaginable. But thanks to the cooperation within the P-5 of the United Nations, and thanks to our friends and partners around the world, many of whom are here in this room, the Security Council has shown that when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of doing big things. Provided this resolution is fully implemented, we will have eliminated one of the largest chemical weapons programs on earth from one of the most volatile places on earth.

The Assad regime carries the burden of meeting the terms of this agreement. And when it comes to those who murder their own citizens, the world’s patience needs to be short. But make no mistake: The rest of the world still carries the burden of doing what we must do to end mass killing by other means. We must work together with the same determination and the same cooperation that has brought us here tonight in order to end the conflict that continues to tear Syria apart even this very day. We must continue to provide desperately needed humanitarian aid. And neither Assad nor anyone else should stand between that aid and the people who need it. Only when we do these things will we have fulfilled our responsibility to the Syrian people and to ourselves. Only then will we have advanced our own interests and our own security and that of our allies in the region. Only then will we have shown that the UN Security Council is meeting its responsibility to enforce international peace and security.

So we are here united tonight in support of our belief that international institutions do matter, that international norms matter. We say with one voice that atrocities carried out with the world’s most heinous weapons will not be tolerated. And when institutions like the Security Council stand up to defend the principles and values that we all share, when we put violent regimes on notice that the world will unite against them, it will lead not only to a safer Syria, but it will lead to a safer world.

Thank you.

PRN: 2013/1213