Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the Security Council Stakeout on Syria, September 5, 2013
Good afternoon. It’s great to be here. As part of the United States’ ongoing consultations with international partners, allies, and the broader international community, today the U.S. Mission hosted a series of briefings for Member States regarding the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime on August 21st. Today’s briefings presented our assessment regarding the events of August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus, which overwhelmingly point to one stark conclusion: the Assad regime perpetrated a large-scale and indiscriminate attack against its own people using chemical weapons. The actions of the Assad regime are morally reprehensible and they violate clearly established international norms. The use of chemical weapons is not America’s redline.
As President Obama said yesterday, “This is the world’s red line.” 189 countries, representing 98% of the world’s population, and all 15 members of the UN Security Council, agree that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and we have all collectively approved a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Let me address now an issue on many on your minds. We in the United States agree with the view that – at times like this — the Security Council should live up to its obligations and should act. That is why for two and a half years we have brought press statements, presidential statements, resolutions, and a whole host of Syria-related concerns to the UN Security Council, each time hoping that our common security and our common humanity might prevail, each time making the case that countries on the Council should be motivated by our shared interest in international peace and security, in protecting civilians, but also in preventing extremism, regional spillover, and chemical weapons use.
Unfortunately, for the past two and a half years, the system devised in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it was supposed to. It has not protected peace and security for the hundreds of Syrian children who were gassed to death on August 21. It is not protecting the stability of the region. It is not standing behind now an internationally accepted ban on the use of chemical weapons. Instead, the system has protected the prerogatives of Russia, the patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world’s largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century — while chemical weapons inspectors sent by the United Nations were just across town. And even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the Council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities, including as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. What we have learned – what the Syrian people have learned – is that the Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have. Nonetheless, as the Secretary General himself has stressed, chemical weapons must “not become a tool of war or terror in the twenty-first century.” It is in our interest – and the interest of all member states of the UN – to respond decisively to this horrific attack. I am happy now to take your questions.
Reporter: Ambassador Power, what is your response to Russian President Putin’s comment that he would consider, did not exclude, returning to the Security Council if he had definitive proof? And is there any way the Security Council can be relevant, in this, on this issue?
Ambassador Power: Thank you, I have seen Putin’s comments. I think we have to step back a little bit from those comments and again look at this pattern, not only over two and a half years, but even in the last couple months on chemical weapons. In July, in the wake of the G8, when Putin and the rest of the world’s leaders at the G8 had issued a statement condemning chemical weapons use, we and our colleagues sought here at the UN Security Council to enshrine the words in that statement in a Security Council resolution condemning chemical weapons use. Russia rejected this. I believe that Ambassador Churkin appeared here and said that the Security Council was not the appropriate venue for discussing chemical weapons or condemning chemical weapons. On August 21, when all of us were watching those videos and seeing those children, we tried again in the Security Council to issue just a press statement condemning chemical weapons use, and again Russia blocked the issuance of a mere press statement. Not even identifying responsibility, but just condemning chemical weapons use. There is nothing in the pattern of our interactions with our colleagues in the Security Council, with our Russian colleagues, that would give us any reason to be optimistic, and indeed we have seen nothing in President Putin’s comments that suggest that there is an available path forward at the Security Council.
Reporter: Thank you very much. Madame Ambassador, now that you have decided that the regime in Syria, the government in Syria is responsible for one of the most heinous crimes of the use of chemical weapons and there are efforts to bomb Syria, how can we envisage a Geneva Conference II to be held? Are you going to sit with these same people who you are accusing of the worst crimes of the 21st century, and most importantly would the opposition sit with them? Is there any chance of Geneva II being realized? And would this government that you are accusing of these crimes honor any agreement, do you have faith that they would honor any agreement? And second question quickly, since you don’t see the 1945 council rules — enough to carry a world consensus, are you going to double your efforts as the United States to reform the Security Council? Thank you.
Ambassador Power: Thank you so much. On your first question, there is no long term solution for Syria that does not entail a political solution. You are right of course to suggest that it would be extremely challenging in the wake of a monstrous gas attack of this nature for the parties to sit down, particularly as you say for the opposition to sit down with the regime. And that is what we found, and that is why the opposition pulled out of preexisting planned talks. And as you know, President Obama has formulated with some of our allies, through consultations with some of our allies, a planned response with regard, again, to this mass causality chemical weapons attack. But again, responding to this flagrant violation of the norm in a military way does not suggest that there is a military solution for this conflict. And that is why consistently the United States with many of our partners have pushed the parties to the table. We’ve used the leverage that we have with some of the opposition groups. We have urged our colleague on Security Council to use the leverage that they have with the regime. And that is what we will continue to do going forward. To suggest that there is a military solution overall, for the conflict in Syria, I think is to invite state failure. And the kind of breakdown and human suffering and regional spillover and set of pernicious consequences that we most fear. Let me just address the issue of the Security Council more generally. And you picked up on my reference to the spirit in which the Security Council was created back in 1945. And there have been occasions, and this is something President Obama made reference to yesterday, in the life of the Security Council, in the history of the Security Council, where paralysis has prevented the council from fulfilling its role. In this case, with regard to this mass casualty chemical weapons use and the risk of further use, the risk as the Secretary General said of this becoming a weapon of war, to stand back would be to endanger not only international peace and security, not only US national security, but we also believe the very international system that we have been working these decades to build. And, on occasions, as we had with Kosovo, as we would have had perhaps in the case of Rwanda, had different proposals been presented, and in this case, we cannot allow the patron of a party to the conflict, the patron of the actor that itself violated this international norm, to act with impunity simply because it has that patronage on the Security Council. That in no way reflects the spirit of the UN charter or the intentions of the founders or the intentions of any of us who come to work every day with the hope of promoting and enforcing international peace and security.
Reporter: The British delegation had submitted a resolution to the P5 calling for some kind of response to the chemical attack. They have not withdrawn that resolution, but they are no longer acting on it. Do you think that anyone else is going to pick up the baton on that or are you going to let it simply die because of the deadlock that you are speaking of?
Ambassador Power: I was present in the meeting where the UK laid down the resolution and everything in that meeting, in word and in body language, suggests that that resolution has no prospect of being adopted by Russia in particular. And our view, again our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after two and a half years on Geneva, on the humanitarian situation, is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council. Thank you.