Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 17, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Coordinator Mladenov, for briefing the Council today, and thank you and your office for your tireless efforts to keep the Council informed while working with all sides.

Let me begin by reiterating, in the strongest possible terms, the United States’ condemnation of the horrific vehicular attack on January 8 by a terrorist in Jerusalem. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the four Israeli soldiers who were killed, including U.S. citizen Erez Orbach, and we hope for a full and fast recovery of those injured. The United States and the Security Council both issued statements condemning the attack. There is absolutely no justification for such brutal and senseless attacks. Moreover, we cannot allow attacks like these to deter achieving lasting and durable peace in the Middle East.

UN Security Council Resolution 2334 very clearly addressed the need to prevent acts of terror and to condemn them, observe calm, exercise restraint, and refrain from incitement and inflammatory rhetoric. As we all know, the viability of a two-state solution is increasingly at risk.

We have called for both sides to take significant steps on the ground to reverse current, negative trends and to send a clear message that they are prepared to fundamentally change the equation – without waiting for the other side to act. We have repeatedly and emphatically stressed to the Palestinians that all incitement to violence must stop and that all acts of terror must be condemned. Our position regarding settlement activity has also been clear. Meanwhile, we have strongly opposed unilateral efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora.

Unfortunately, trends continue to move in the wrong direction. We must all work together to reverse these trends. As reaffirmed by the participants at the French ministerial over the weekend, the international community stands ready to help the parties realize a two-state solution; the ministerial’s communiqué reflected the principles outlined by Secretary Kerry. We ask the parties to restate their commitment to the goal of two states and take urgent steps to reverse trends on the ground that threaten it.

Nobody can make decisions on final status issues for Israel or the Palestinians, rather they must come together to negotiate this themselves, in meaningful, direct negotiations. It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to make the difficult choices for peace – and if they are ready, we can all help. Our commitment to peace in the Middle East has never wavered, and it never will.

Let me move now to Syria. Since 2012, this Council, through numerous resolutions, has called for investigations into chemical weapons use; for a nationwide ceasefire and political process to end the war; for sustained humanitarian assistance to all Syrians in need; and for steps to be taken to halt the unceasing hell the Syrian people have been living through since the conflict started. Yet, here we are in 2017, just a month after the United Nations alerted the world to credible and continuing reports of terrible atrocities in Syria, including summary executions, intense bombardment of areas still populated with civilians, and dire humanitarian conditions.

Given the grave situation Syrians continue to find themselves in, we support all genuine efforts to de-escalate the violence in Syria and pave the way for renewed intra-Syrian talks.

To that end, we support recent Russian and Turkish efforts to bring about a true ceasefire that is respected by all parties. We expect these efforts to lead to the resumption of UN-led talks between the regime and the opposition in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, as well as the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. As we have long said, the parameters for these talks must include a viable nationwide ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian assistance for all who need it, and a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political process that can bring about a more representative, peaceful, and united Syria.

While the current ceasefire has somewhat reduced violence, attacks continue, and thousands of Syrians remain under siege. For months, no UN assistance has been delivered to those trapped by the regime, Iran, and Hezbollah in towns outside Damascus, despite the presence of UN warehouses just a few kilometers away. I remind the Council that these cynical siege tactics and attacks on civilians are a real threat to international peace and security, since they drive the radical extremism the perpetrators claim they are trying to fight. We cannot remain silent while these atrocities serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists.

In Lebanon, we welcome the formation of a cabinet, and encourage the new Lebanese government and President Michel Aoun to seize this opportunity to respond to the needs of the Lebanese people, and to address the pressing security, economic, and humanitarian challenges facing the country.

The United States reaffirms its strong commitment to Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty, and we look to all parties in Lebanon to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, including those contained in UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701.

We will continue to support Lebanon’s state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces, which defend Lebanon’s borders and contain violent spillover effects from the Syrian conflict.

Finally, turning to Iraq, in Mosul, the Iraqi Security Forces, supported by the Counter-ISIL Coalition, are making strides against Da’esh, having liberated almost half of the city, with the rest soon to follow.

The humanitarian situation, however, remains dire, for the millions of internally displaced and other civilians impacted by the conflict. The United States has partnered with the Iraqis, the UN, and others to fund and coordinate the delivery of lifesaving assistance. We also note the Government of Iraq’s close attention to preventing and minimizing civilian harm in the course of ongoing combat operations.

Yet Daesh’s eventual defeat will not mark the finish line. Post-liberation, Iraqis from all sects, ethnicities, and creeds will need to commit to the challenging, often frustrating, and compromise-driven process of political reconciliation. Meaningful reconciliation will be essential if Iraq is to avoid a future resurgence of extremism and violence.

Thank you, Mr. President.