Statement to the Press After the ISSG Meeting

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
The Palace Hotel
New York City
September 22, 2016


SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for your patience. There are reports that even as we were meeting this afternoon, a regime offensive was taking place in Aleppo, which is exactly the kind of regime action that has done so much damage to this process and to the credibility of the concept of restraint or ceasefire.

As I said yesterday in the UN Security Council, this is a moment of truth for Russia, it’s a moment of truth for the Assad regime and for the opposition. And it’s a moment of truth for everybody, all of us, who are determined to try to end this war in Syria and to defeat the terrorist groups Nusrah and Daesh/ISIL.

So let’s confront some of the hard truths here. The United States continues to believe that the objectives and the processes laid out in Geneva earlier this month were and are the right ones: a renewal of the cessation of hostilities, the resumption of aid deliveries, the isolation of al-Nusrah and Daesh, and the beginning of a Syrian-led negotiating track that can provide a pathway out of the conflict and make possible the restoration of a united and peaceful Syria.

We remain absolutely convinced there is no such thing as a military solution. There can only be a political solution in order to actually get extremists and all of the parties to end the violence. Without that political solution, one party or the other will continue to prosecute in its own way – whether it’s just suicide belts or car bombs – but the violence will continue, and the capacity to put Syria back together will not present itself.

Now, obviously, no one can possibly be satisfied with the events that have unfolded in the last few days – far, far from it. The cessation offered a glimmer of what could be achieved in the first few days when violence dropped significantly, but then the spoilers went to work. Humanitarian aid deliveries were blocked. The ceasefire was violated by one or the other again and again. And accusations were then exchanged. And then Monday, one of the first aid convoys that was actually allowed to move towards Aleppo was brutally attacked.

Let me be clear: The United States makes absolutely no apology for going the extra mile to try to ease the suffering of the Syrian people and to ensure that they have access to food and to medicine and to other critical supplies. We will continue to fight for that. This war has been going on for five years, and for a few moments here and there, when we’ve been able to try to get the parties to stop fighting, we’ve been able to see what a reduction of violence can actually look like. And we’ve been able to witness how much the Syrian people themselves, wherever they live, long for a taste of normalcy.

But we can’t be the only ones trying to hold this door open. Russia and the regime must do their part, or this will have no chance. The question now is whether there remains any real chance of moving forward, because it’s clear we cannot continue on the same path any longer.

This effort has always depended on Russia having the will and the wherewithal both to comply and to deliver the Assad regime and its partners, and depends on the opposition and its supporters willing to live up to their obligations, to their commitments. And in the end, without that compliance, none of this can work.

And we have said for days that it will take significant and immediate steps in order to put things back on track, not little changes around the margins. A lot of people doubt that this can be done or that, in fact, the key parties want it done. So the first thing that we have to do is find the way to restore credibility to the process if that can be done, and that means that we need significant action now. It can’t be based on exceptions and loopholes and carve-outs that every time are exploited by one party or another in order specifically to undermine the cessation of hostilities. It has to be achieved through a genuine and sustained reduction in violence as well as unfettered humanitarian access that is unmistakable to everyone.

The only way to achieve that is if the ones who have the air power in this part of the conflict simply stop using it – not for one day or two, but for as long as possible so that everyone can see that they are serious. Absent a major gesture like this, we don’t believe there is a point in making more promises or issuing more plans or announcing something that simply can’t be enforced or reached. If Russia demonstrates that it is serious, we will work with the opposition to reciprocate and to pull back from this cycle of escalation, because the opposition also has a responsibility to observe the cessation of hostilities if the government does and to disassociate from al-Nusrah.

So make no mistake: The United States will continue to pursue every avenue of progress that we can, because it is the only way to stop the killing, it’s the only way to ease the suffering, and it’s the only way to make possible the restoration of a united Syria. And because if we do not succeed in doing this one way or the other, this catastrophic situation is going to get even worse.

But at the same time, we can’t go out to the world and say we have an agreement when we don’t, nor can we tell our partners that there is a cessation when there isn’t. The simple reality is that we can’t resolve a crisis if one side is unwilling to do what is necessary to avoid escalation. And we won’t get anywhere if we begin by ignoring facts and plain common sense or denying the truth.

I want to emphasize that both the regime and the opposition have an obligation to comply with the United Nations Security Council mandates that international humanitarian law be observed, that aid be allowed to reach besieged areas, that the UN role be respected, and that the safety of aid workers be guaranteed.

Now, Sergey Lavrov and I have spent a part of the last couple of days discussing how and whether we can agree on the necessary steps in order to be able to move forward, and we had good suggestions in the ISSG today about monitoring and other ways to try to advance this process. And we have exchanged ideas with the Russians and we plan to consult tomorrow with respect to those ideas.

In today’s meeting of the ISSG, we heard near unanimity that this process is the only viable path forward. So I am no less determined today than I was yesterday, but I am even more frustrated, obviously. If the Russians come back to us with constructive proposals, we will listen. And as we’ve said, people need to believe that whatever it is is credible, and only by changing the equation of the current bombing which sows so much destruction and also confusion and just cracks the credibility possibilities, only by changing that equation can we find a way forward. The key is to restore credibility where there is none or create some where there is none. This is not a time for maneuvering or for delay. It is time to make decisions that will benefit the people of Syria and hopefully bring stability to a country and to a region that is in absolutely desperate need.

Thank you.