Remarks at the Security Council Stakeout Following Consultations on Syria and South Sudan

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 2, 2015

AS DELIVERED

I know that everyone is watching the events in California. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of this unfolding horrible situation. So I’ll try to make this quick and hope the situation is resolved as soon as possible.

I will give brief readouts of both the Council sessions that we had today. Before I do though, in my capacity as U.S. Ambassador, I’d also like to express my sadness personally and as a representative of the United States on the passing of Sandy Berger earlier today. Sandy was one of the most passionate and effective public servants of our time, we have him to thank for a more peaceful world and much deeper relationships between the United States and many of our partners around the world. Among many of Sandy’s achievements, he helped formulate the foreign policy that helped bring peace to the Balkans, he crafted our response to devastating terrorist acts, including the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he further built our alliance with Japan and deepened our relationships with India and China. He was a trusted counselor to many of us including President Obama. It’s a very, very sad day. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

In terms of Council action today, the Council heard a briefing this morning from Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo on the Joint Investigative Mechanism and the larger effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Acting High Representative Kim noted that the JIM is now fully operational, fully staffed and funded, and has formally launched its investigative work. He noted the three OPCW Fact-Finding Mission reports that have recently been released to Member States, which confirm chemical weapons use in one investigation and concluded likely chemical weapons use in a second. Council members unanimously underscored our common concern and condemnation for alleged chemical weapons use whichever party carried it out. We also collectively expressed hope and expectation that the JIM’s ongoing investigations will finally allow perpetrators to be identified and held accountable.

This afternoon, after a briefing that you all heard in the open chamber by Under-Secretary-General Hervè Ladsous, the Council held consultations on UNMISS and heard an additional briefing from the UNMISS Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ellen Løj. Council members agreed on the following elements – press elements: Council members discussed the Secretary-General’s report on South Sudan and the UNMISS mandate. We discussed the way forward with the next UNMISS mandate looking closely at the Secretary-General’s recommendations, many of which I’m sure you’re familiar with. We noted that there has been some progress in the implementation of the peace agreement, signatories to the accord have agreed on security arrangements and ceasefire modalities. The CTSAMM and the joint monitoring and evaluation commission have been established and South Sudanese government troops have begun to withdraw outside Juba. Ugandan troops also completed their withdrawal not that long ago. But we discussed the need for all parties to the conflict to participate with full commitment to the ceasefire and peace process and to form the transitional government, which is now overdue, without delay.

Council members were united in expressing alarm at the catastrophic humanitarian situation – including 1.6 million displaced persons in South Sudan and 3.9 million people with what the UN refers to as acute food needs, which is extremely severe. The Council underscored the need for the government to facilitate humanitarian access, as well as to allow freedom of movement of UN personnel to carry out their duties. It has been a recurring issue – the restrictions on UNMISS movement and the interference on UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate.

The Council was united in reiterating our readiness to take all appropriate measures to respond to violations of the ceasefire, abuse against civilians, and attacks on UN peacekeepers.

So that’s all said in my Council President capacity.

In my national capacity, let me just inform you that I also have the privilege today of announcing that the United States has provided $2 million to the JIM trust fund, bringing total member state contributions to its requested $5 million. So that’s part of why the JIM is now able to really be up and running at last. It is financially secure and can carry out its mission. We want to make it clear to all actors in Syria – again speaking very much in my national capacity here – including the regime, the opposition, and terrorist groups such as ISIL – that the Council is watching closely any reports of chemical weapons use and is positioned now to take action against those found responsible. Finally, we will continue to hold the Syrian government accountable to declare and destroy its entire chemical weapons program and we will support the JIM and OPCW mechanisms in this effort. The case file is not closed and will not be closed until all of our concerns about gaps, omissions, and use are addressed and cleared up and until perpetrators have been held accountable.

On South Sudan, again in my national capacity, parties to the conflict have to demonstrate more commitment and more political will than they have shown up to this point to follow through on the peace agreement. Active and constructive participation, concrete steps are needed to ensure that this peace agreement, which came about after a year-and-a-half-long effort to bring the parties together, we need to ensure that it does not unravel and that it actually addresses the needs of the South Sudanese who are still living under tremendous fear and with tremendous hardship. Our goal with the upcoming UNMISS mandate renewal is to take into account the Secretary-General’s assessments of UNMISS’s needs and put forward a draft resolution that allows for an operation that is properly resourced to assist in implementing the peace agreement. But, as I made this point in the Council, UNMISS is not going to be the make or break issue in terms of whether this peace agreement is implemented. It is the parties in South Sudan who are going to need to show more political will and more urgency in terms of following through on the commitments that they have made.

With that, I’m happy to take a few questions.

Reporter: Thank you, Madam President. On Syria do you have in mind any timeframe for when the JIM should conclude its work? And also, do you plan any meeting for the international support group on Syria here in New York? I heard there might be a meeting on the 18th and there might be a ministerial meeting for the Security Council, headed of course – if it happens – by Mr. Kerry? Can you please elaborate on that?

Ambassador Power: Thank you. On your second question, I don’t have anything to add from yesterday. We are still considering a number of venues for where the support group will meet. We still need to see the opposition come together – as you know, that’s the first step that has to happen. And I think after that has been concluded, the ministers will reassess and determine where best to convene.

As I said yesterday, New York is certainly a possible venue and we are the President of the Council in December so there could be a useful nexus there. I also think a number of the foreign ministers will be seeing one another and engaging in the coming days so we may have something more for you then as to what the venue for the next ministerial will be.

In terms of the Joint Investigative Mechanism timeframe, again, it’s very significant finally that the JIM exists. It came into existence on November 13; it now has the funding to move forward. Its first report is due in 90 days and one of the points that was stressed by many Council members but also Won-soo was the importance of that report being as substantive as possible. So not simply a status report on which nationalities are comprising the JIM and you know, what it’s mode of operation is going to be, but actually moving out on the basis of the Fact-Finding Mission reports that have been completed up to this point. As you know, the way the JIM is structured is it in effect takes the baton from the Fact-Finding Mission and then moves out to try to identify perpetrators. So they have a lot of evidence to work from and my impression is that when they are lacking evidence they will then also go out to Member States and other parties and seek to bring more on board so they can make progress again in the identification. So I don’t know that they planned any kind of interim briefing between now and February, but the latest at which we should hear from them, I think, is February 13.

Reporter: On Syria, some U.S. and Israeli officials have suggested that the use of chemical weapons in Syria – and now a little bit in Iraq – have become almost routine. Is it still the U.S. intelligence assessment that that is the case? And on another subject, the IAEA released its report on possible military dimensions in Iran’s nuclear program and strongly suggested that they did in fact have a nuclear weapons program at some point that ended. The U.S. reaction so far has been rather muted and I wonder if you think that this is a sign of how far things have come in the negotiations with Iran, where something that five years ago would have been a huge deal for the U.S. and now people are acting as if it’s not really such a big deal.

Ambassador Power: Let me take your second question first. So, I think that the world’s focus is on the implementation of the JCPOA. But bear in mind that the report that has been issued by the IAEA was a report also that is central to the JCPOA moving forward. In other words, it’s really important to get a sense of the facts of the past in order to level-set, and the report – one of the reasons perhaps that the reaction is what it is that this is just completely consistent with why the world came together to impose crippling economic sanctions. It’s why it’s completely consistent with the world coming together to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. It confirms that Iran was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and that is why the sanctions were put in place, and it is why President Obama and so many world leaders have rallied together to secure the JCPOA and now to throw their weight behind its implementation. I mean in a way it just underscores the absolute criticality of the path ahead, which is moving from the agreement on paper to the implementation so that Iran does not have a pathway to a nuclear weapon.

In terms of chemical weapons use, I guess I would just say that the reason we have the Security Council seized of this matter is that we are determined to never allow the use of this monstrous, indiscriminate weapon to become routine. There’s no question that the OPCW reports – particularly with regard to chlorine – of late have reported systematic, repeated use of chlorine. And chlorine used as a weapon – a toxic chemical used as a weapon – is a violation of the chemical weapons convention; it’s a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. But that is, again, why it is so important that the Fact-Finding Missions move out promptly when allegations are reported; that nobody ever treats an allegation of chemical weapons use of any kind as routine or as business as usual; and that this joint investigative mechanism now takes these findings and move it to the obvious next stage which is actually pointing fingers and holding people accountable. So we hope that the unity that we’ve been able to bring together around 2118, and the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons, the unity around creating the JIM – that that unity persists as perpetrators are in fact identified. Because to just identify a perpetrator and then not ensure accountability is not at all in keeping with our shared purpose, which is ensuring that chemical weapons use ceases and that people who would be responsible for something that the whole world has joined on to agree is a prohibited use, that that be punished appropriately.

Reporter: Thanks a lot. Can I ask about South Sudan?

Ambassador Power: Sure.

Reporter: I wanted to ask on South Sudan – Mr. Ladsous mentioned it – but I wanted to know I guess if it was discussed in consultations and if the U.S. has a position on President Salva Kiir proposing to divide the country into 28 states, which some people have said would change the kind of balance that was agreed to. Does the U.S. think that that should be rolled back? And also what is UNMISS’s role in terms of reporting ceasefire violations? I’ve seen some situation reports where they’re aware of things that they don’t announce. Is it up to them to say when civilians are killed or when the ceasefire is violated, or is there some other mechanism that’s not reporting? On Friday in Mundri they said that 14 people were killed, they were going to check it; and they never came back. Was this discussed and what do you think they should do?

Ambassador Power: Well we certainly got a rundown of ceasefire violations from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in our briefing just now. I would imagine if we were in Juba we would be getting regular updates, and certainly our team has constant communication with folks on the ground in UNMISS but also through DPKO here. You know this is a very large country and it is not an enormous peacekeeping mission – it’s a larger mission than it was when it first came into existence in a very different set of circumstances – but I suspect the reach that UNMISS has to be able to identify ceasefire violations, report them back, verify them, et cetera, is not exhaustive or is not universal. And this is one reason, as you know, that we have supported also their request for unarmed, manned vehicles so that they’ll have more scope to know what’s going on in parts of the country that they can’t access – either because their access is being physically blocked, or because of bad roads or poor weather conditions.

Your first question – oh, yes. So the UN’s position on this – which you’ve probably heard articulated – is that this is an issue on which people have very strong views across the country. Clearly President Kiir has his own view. It is essential that the transitional government – which now needs to be embarking on a whole series of executive decisions and executive measures to bring the country together to try to forge unity – that it be involved in deciding how the country is structured. Now, that is a polarizing issue; it is an issue, again, in which there will not be rapid consensus, but we think it’s extremely important that the transitional government take up its position and that issues like the demarcation of states be addressed by the new body, rather than having facts on the ground prematurely created by a government that is itself going to be absorbed into a transitional government.

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