United Nations Security Council Briefing on the Middle East - Syria

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

As delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, December 18, 2015.

Thank you Madam President,

We thank Secretary Kerry and the United States for convening today’s meeting and preparing the resolution that we adopted today. We also acknowledge and thank the other foreign ministers for coming to our meeting today. We appreciate that the meeting and the resolution were convened under significant time pressures and for that reason we are prepared to go along with, if not entirely welcome, the short time with which we had to consider the resolution.

Madam President,

The collapse of Syria into the nightmare of civil war has resulted in the spread of insecurity throughout the world.

Assad’s cruel response in 2011 to peaceful civilian protest and ongoing breaches of international humanitarian law, have fuelled extremism and terrorism. They have precipitated the foreign terrorist fighters’ phenomenon.

For Syrians, the conflict has meant death, suffering, destruction and displacement on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

The conflict has produced the biggest exodus of people since the Second World War. Syria’s neighbours, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have borne the brunt.

The conflict has further destabilised Iraq and given rise to appalling atrocities and the destabilising impacts have now reached Europe.

The international community, and this Security Council, must accept a share of the blame. The devastation in Syria demonstrates beyond any doubt the need for effective conflict prevention, and for Council unity in achieving this.

The fact that we could come together today and adopt this landmark resolution in a short time reflects the determination of the international community to end this conflict. We welcome, in particular, the continued close engagement between the Security Council and the International Syria Support Group.   

As we move forward, it must be a time for acceptance.

All involved in the Syrian tragedy must accept that no side can win militarily.

The Assad government and the opposition fighters must accept that, however much more death and destruction they inflict on their country, there will be no victory.

They, and those external actors who have serious political stakes in how the Syrian conflict is resolved, must accept that “political solutions” mean political compromise.

Anyone who insists on political red lines that block the necessary compromises will have to measure the delay that they cause in terms of more lives lost, more refugees and more suffering.  Delay plays into the hands of the extremists, like ISIL.

Compromise requires a willingness to take difficult decisions; to give and to take; to accept ultimately an outcome that may be short of initial positions.
A political solution will be imperfect. But it is necessary.

Madam President,

In July this year, six countries came together with Iran and found a political solution to one of the most difficult issues of the last decade.

My Foreign Minister, who was presiding over the Council at the time of the resolution adopting the resolution to the Iran nuclear issues, challenged Council members to apply the same courage and commitment to a political solution for Syria.

The formation and meetings of the Support Group have given us hope that there is at last a way out of this conflict.

The Support Group benefits from its inclusive membership, and from the ambition and capacities of the major powers involved. It also has benefited from focussing on the issues that all agree – working together to counter terrorism, to ensure the survival of state institutions in Syria, and to end violent conflict.

This is positive but big questions remain.

The first is the need for a comprehensive ceasefire.

The second is that offensive operations must be immediately and exclusively focused on ISIL, Al Nusra Front and any other terrorist organisations designated as such by this Council. And these operations must be carried out in a way that protect civilians.

Third, we recognise the process being led by Jordan to add to the list of designated terrorist organisations, as envisaged in Resolution 2249. But until there is agreement, we should proceed on the basis that peace in Syria will not be served by a hasty approach that defines far too many people as terrorists.

Fourthly, Assad’s future is an issue for the intra-Syrian process to decide. We agree with the Secretary General that it is unacceptable to let one person take the political negotiation process hostage.

Answers to other difficult questions will also be needed. These include the sequencing of the ceasefire, and the mechanics of the transition, including ceasefire monitoring, long term mechanics for guaranteeing security and coalescing the Syrian opposition. On this last point we welcome the efforts of Saudi Arabia. 

On all of these issues, New Zealand encourages key players to prioritise pragmatism and an end to the conflict over other interests.
New Zealand supports a Syrian-led political transition process that is fully inclusive, representative and provides for the protection of groups within Syria.

This Council has a role also in reminding all that political solutions do not mean giving up core values.

It is clear that the Syrian Government’s resistance to the core value of inclusiveness has been a key factor in perpetuating recruitment conditions for violent extremist groups.

We firmly believe that the day will come, and must come, when there will be accountability.

In the meantime, we must do all we can to reduce suffering, open humanitarian access, build trust and protect civilians. Ending indiscriminate attacks and releasing political prisoners are also critical.

An immediate next responsibility for the Security Council is to renew the mandate for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian assistance. The arrangements in place have facilitated the UN and others to help millions of people. The draft resolution which has been prepared by New Zealand, Jordan and Spain reflects developments over the last year. Its adoption is urgent and we call on all our Council colleagues to join us in adopting the resolution very soon.

Finding a solution has taken too long but we finally have an opening. Let us make 2016 the year where we end the fighting, work together to counter terrorism, and start to rebuild Syria.

Thank you.


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