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Ambassador Rice's Remarks on Syria, May 2012

Speaker: Susan E. Rice
Published May 30, 2012

Susan Rice, U.S. representative to the UN, gave these remarks regarding Syria on May 30, 2012.

Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. I will just briefly summarize the main points that we made in our discussion. We certainly agree with Kofi Annan that this is a moment where we have reached, in effect, the tipping point, with the events over the weekend being the most recent manifestation of that reality. I think we may be beginning to see the wheels coming off of this bus. And that means that what happens next and the steps that are taken by the Syrian authorities and by this Council could well be dispositive.

The reality is—as I said in our discussion—it's hard to see that there are any more than three potential outcomes at this stage. The political process—which is so crucial to the success of any transition, which is the purpose of the Annan plan—is thwarted by the ongoing, escalating, expanding violence perpetrated by the government and the reality that the opposition cannot possibly be expected to come to the table while the violence is intensifying, escalating, and the government is lying about it. So those three outcomes are as follows: The first and best outcome would be for the government of Syria to finally and immediately implement its commitments under the Annan plan as it's obliged to do under UN Security Council resolutions. That is what Kofi Annan is pressing for, and that is the surest and best way for this to get back on track and for there to be still a live prospect of a political solution. At this point, however, that does not seem to be a high probability scenario.

The second scenario would be—in the absence of that happening very quickly, that the government fulfills its commitments—would be for this Council to assume its responsibilities and to put additional pressure on the Syrian authorities to meet its commitments. And that pressure could include sanctions of the sort that have been alluded to and discussed, and we were among those that raised that possibility.

Now, in either of those first two scenarios, the Annan plan survives, the unity of the Council is preserved, and there is a path forward aimed at putting the political process on track.

In the absence of either of those two scenarios, there seems to me to be only one other alternative, and that is indeed the worst case, which seems unfortunately at the present to be the most probable. And that is that the violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies, it reaches a higher degree of severity, it involves countries in the region, it takes on increasingly sectarian forms, and we have a major crisis not only in Syria but in the region. The Council's unity is exploded, the Annan plan is dead, and this becomes a proxy conflict with arms flowing in from all sides. And members of this Council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they're prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this Council.

That scenario obviously is the one we all have sought to avoid through support for the Annan plan. The decision rests, in the first instance, with the Syrian government, whether it will fulfill its commitments. And if it does, then the opposition has an obligation to reciprocate. If it doesn't, this Council has a responsibility to act and act swiftly and surely. And if we don't, then we are all resigning ourselves to a third scenario, which we still hope to avoid and that is why we continue to support the Annan plan. And that is why we are continuing to work with colleagues in the Council on a collective way forward.

I'll take a couple questions.

Reporter: Thank you very much Ambassador. On the Houla massacre, there is evidence that keeps coming out from the eyewitnesses, from General Mood. Is there enough evidence to point to the Syrian militia—the pro-Syrian militias—acting on behalf of the Asad regime in your mind or in the Council?

Ambassador Rice: Certainly from the U.S. point of view, we think that this is not ambiguous. There were massacres committed at close range of over a hundred people, the vast majority of them women and children. Some killed by heavy weapons, the others killed, it seems by every indication, by the shabiha militias acting on behalf of the government. We think it's quite clear cut, and we think there needs to be justice and accountability for those who committed these atrocities. And we think the information needs to be gathered so that those individuals can be held accountable.

Reporter: Was there any country that immediately dismissed the idea of sanctions or do you see an opening for discussion there? And also on the monitors, are you willing to—are you still reconsidering or considering whether or not to approve them again when it comes up for renewal?

Ambassador Rice: Well, with respect to sanctions, I think it's still fair to say that there are differences of views as to the timeliness and appropriateness of sanctions in the Council. I think there's no doubt that there are some who expressed great skepticism and some who said it's past time. So, that discussion continues, but I think it will continue not only here in New York but in capitals and in other contexts because the Syrian government has made commitments. It has blatantly violated those commitments. And I think it's quite clear, as we've said for many weeks, if they continued to do so, there should be consequences. And that's what we're up against. Let me just finish and answer the other question. [inaudible] Well, pick. I'm answering. You're asking. So take your pick.

Reporter: Yesterday [inaudible] said that Iran had a role in the Houla massacre. I was wondering if you could expand on that.

Ambassador Rice: I can't expand on that. But what I can say is that Iran by own admission has bragged about its arming of the forces—the Syrian government forces and its own involvement inside of Syria. So I think they're saying it publically themselves. That's been our understanding for quite some while, so whether, specific to who or more broadly, they are very much complicit in the killing that is going on. Your question, your second question?

Reporter: The monitors next month?

Ambassador Rice: We've been very clear that—and I said as we voted for the resolution that established UNSMIS that—our readiness to renew the mission will be a function of whether—how we deem its effectiveness, and I reiterated that in the Council. I think there has been some important contributions that UNSMIS has made, not least to bring to public light with objectivity what happened in Houla and in other places. On the other hand, there remain limitations on and impediments to the fully effective operation of UNSMIS, and those are things that continue to concern us. But we will look at all sides of this coin, and we've asked the Secretariat to do so. Should it be augmented? Should it be downsized? Should it be shifted in some way? Should it should it be renewed? All of these are important questions. And we want a fact-based assessment of what would be best, and we will make our decisions accordingly. Let me let my colleagues [inaudible].


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