Open Debate: Middle East

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by H.E. Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 21 April, 2015.

Thank you Mr President and thank you particularly for coming and chairing today’s debate.

We’re also grateful for Jordan’s role in the region.

As well your country’s generosity towards Syrian refugees, Jordan has been a very positive force in the Middle East Peace Process.

Today, Mr President, I’m going to focus my statement on Syria and that Middle East Peace Process.

On Syria, there is a chorus calling for a political solution.

With Yarmouk resembling a death camp, and many parts of the country witness to unimaginable human suffering, that refrain is as important now as it’s ever been.

It is also just as difficult to achieve.

We welcome the efforts of Special Envoy de Mistura to freeze the fighting in Aleppo.

We’ll hear from him in a few days on how that proposal is progressing; but we understand that, modest as it is, the prospects are not good.
We also support the efforts of Russia and Egypt to reinvigorate the political track.

However, it is important that all those efforts be coordinated under the UN umbrella, and that they be based on the Geneva Communique.

Until there is a political solution and there must be one day, a political, not a military solution, Syrians will suffer and your country Minister and Syria’s other neighbours, will strain under the refugee burden.

As with the Middle East Peace Process, this Council should bring its significant experience with peace processes elsewhere to developing a lasting solution in Syria.

We admit that it’s difficult to apply experience from other situations to Syria; there are many interests at stake and multiple parties to the conflict.

However, of themselves, differences aren’t unique; we encounter them in every situation.

What’s more, we all know the broad outline of a political transition – it’s set out in the Geneva Communique.

So let’s talk about it.

Let’s sit round a table and develop a plan for the next few months.

The price of inaction is high and it’s being paid by ordinary Syrians.

We’d welcome the views of other Council members, but also of others here in this room – many of whom are affected by the Syrian crisis.

So, let me pose a question to all of you who speak today: Council or no. What would you propose as pragmatic, concrete next steps that this Council can take to alleviate the carnage in Syria?

This Council is listening; certainly, it should be listening to you.

Mr President.

On the Middle East Peace Process: In January, I said that New Zealand supports, in principle, the idea of a suitably balanced Security Council resolution, and I outlined the five points that guide New Zealand’s approach to the Middle East Peace Process.

I said that this Council doesn’t just have a responsibility to remain seized of the matter – it should also go further and actively promote negotiations leading to a just, sustainable, long-term peace agreement.

Agreeing a role for this Council isn’t going to be easy, but New Zealand believes that it is essential.

We’ll also need to overcome the concerns of some who feel that this Council should not play a role at all.

While it’s clearly for the parties themselves to reach final agreement, we believe that now is the time for this Council, with its “primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security”, to use its moral and legal authority, and the practical tools at its disposal, to shift the dynamics back to productive negotiations.

Again, this won’t be easy: If it’s to assume that role, this Council will have to form a collective opinion on issues that are sensitive, nuanced and are weighed down with historical baggage.

We must respect the significant investment many countries have made over decades, and the direct, national interest of many states in the final outcome.

And we need to convince stakeholders to take difficult, politically costly decisions in the interests of peace and long-term stability.

This isn’t easy but it is necessary.

We’ll be told that it’s not the right time; but it’s always “not the right time”; there never will be a perfect time.

We can’t continue to kick the can down an endless road, as outgoing Special Coordinator Serry said to us last month.

And, we all know that, if this Council only addresses symptoms and not the root causes of the conflict, there can be and will be no lasting peace.

Mr President.

We assess that there is a finite window of opportunity for the Council to set this process in motion.

In the January Open Debate, New Zealand committed to exploring options for the Council to inject new momentum into negotiations, once elections were concluded in Israel.

That time has come.

It’s appropriate that the Council take action, now that those elections are over, and before other election campaigns begin.

New Zealand’s friendships with Israel and with the Palestinians motivates us to make a constructive contribution, and to work for progress.

New Zealand wants this Security Council to focus on a practical outcome – so we have been working on a text that might serve the purpose of getting negotiations started.

That, Mr President, is the important next step – to get negotiations started.

It will require that both sides step back from their optimum or preferred outcomes, and that they both put any pre-conditions to one side.

There’s already been reference to the fact that France is working with others on a parameters resolution.

We know how difficult it will be to achieve nine votes in favour, and no veto; but we remain convinced that this Council has to discharge its responsibilities.

We’ve not seen the latest French text, but if it has a chance of succeeding New Zealand stands ready to engage and to be helpful.

Friends in the region have told us a second text would complicate the process; so, at this stage, New Zealand is prepared to wait to see how current efforts play out.

But we do firmly believe that for success and buy-in it’s important that any text is considered through an inclusive and transparent process.

We’ve got to break the cycle that has undermined previous Council attempts to support the Middle East Peace Process.

So, New Zealand stands ready to work with all members to ensure that the next Resolution that comes to this Council has a genuine chance of bringing the parties to the negotiating table.

Mr President, like the UK Ambassador, this is the last time I will speak in the monthly Middle East Council debate. I’d therefore, like to add some further remarks.

I’ve talked today about the need for the Council and other stakeholders to get round the table and talk about Syria.

As we sit here in New York, one must be struck by the fact that discussions in this Council are often formulaic and often disconnected from reality.

We exist in a world of diplomatic niceties, carefully avoiding the elephants in the room (usually, I might add, in a room deliberately screened from the rest of the world).

We endorse resolutions to protect civilians in Libya, but we can't stop the salvo of barrel bombs in Syria.

We talk of populations besieged, as we’ve done today, in Syria, but we find it much harder to talk about the same in Gaza.

Even when we can discuss the most sensitive issues, key players are often left out of the discussion.

Mr President. New Zealand is a very strong believer in the United Nations and in this Security Council. We deeply appreciate that so many of the UN’s membership had faith in us to elect us to this Council for a two-year term. In seeking that mandate, we promised that we would say what we believed and that we’d listen and that we’d consult with all. We meant what we said.

And so, Mr President I end with a call for all of us to deliver on our responsibility - our collective responsibility - to work together to end conflicts like that in Syria and that between Israel and Palestine.

We have the blueprints – the Geneva Communique for Syria, and the decades of work and the known parameters for the Middle East Peace Process.

Mr President. We have said that we have the will. What is left is for this Council to find the way.


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