Now is not the time to allow engagement with Syria to dwindle [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 20 December 2018
I warmly thank the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Mr. Staffan De Mistura, for his particularly important briefing. More broadly, on behalf of France I would like to offer him our deep gratitude for his exemplary engagement and intensive and tireless efforts over the past four years to resolve one of the gravest crises of our times. His efforts will leave an indelible mark on the United Nations work on the Syrian conflict.
I would like to start by addressing the situation in north-eastern Syria, which requires our full attention today. The fight against terrorism is indeed a priority for France, in order to thoroughly eliminate Da’esh and counter any resurgence of terrorism in the region. Our assessment is that Da’esh continues to be a threat in the Levant and that that terrorist organization can continue to rely on smaller areas, particularly in Syria.
In that context, growing tensions on the ground could provide opportunities for terrorist groups. There is a very real risk of a new descent into violence and a resumption of large-scale atrocities. The north-east should not have to become yet another Syrian region on the long list of those that have had to deal with a humanitarian disaster. In the north-east — as in Idlib, where the situation is deteriorating — renewed hostilities would have dramatic consequences. With regard to Idlib, it is essential to sustainably maintain the cessation of hostilities, in line with the conclusions of the Istanbul summit. We therefore call upon Russia and Turkey to redouble their efforts and do everything possible to preserve the calm on the ground, as they committed themselves to doing.
We, alongside the partner States of the international coalition, are also in close contact with Washington regarding the timetable and conditions for the implementation of the decision to withdraw United States forces engaged against Da’esh in Syria, as was announced by the President of the United States. In the coming weeks, France will take care to ensure the security of all United States partners, including the Syrian Democratic Forces. It is important that the United States take into account the protection of the populations of north-east Syria and the stability of that area in order to avoid any new humanitarian tragedy or resurgence of terrorism. It is thanks to the action of the international coalition since 2014, and of the local forces — Iraqi on the one hand, Kurdish and Syrian Arabs on the other — that Da’esh has been weakened and has essentially lost its territorial gains. However, the fight is not over.
I would also like to return to the intense efforts deployed in recent weeks within the political sphere of the Syrian conflict. The past few weeks have seen exceptional diplomatic mobilization for the formation of a balanced and inclusive constitutional committee under the auspices of the United Nations. All of us around this table have called for the first meeting of the constitutional committee. The members of the small group also requested the same on the sidelines of the General Assembly, and Russia made a commitment to achieve that. On 27 October in Istanbul, the Heads of State and Government of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey set a clear and realistic goal: to hold a meeting of the committee before the end of year.
While we have achieved a united vision — which is a rare occurrence with regard to the Syrian file — to move forward on the constitutional aspect of the political process, the latest discussions in Geneva have, unfortunately, not enabled us to reach a favourable outcome. Staffan de Mistura has worked tirelessly throughout this process, devoting every effort to establishing a balanced and inclusive constitutional committee, which is the first essential contribution to a legitimate and viable political process to settle the Syrian crisis.
The situation in which we find ourselves today is, without a doubt, due to the Syrian regime, which has never sought to show the slightest sign of commitment. We regret that Russia and Iran could not — or would not — convince the regime that it was in its interest, as well as that of the Syrian people. The Astana guarantors have, in recent days, proposed a poorly coordinated and unbalanced list of people whom they know to be unacceptable and jeopardize the credibility of the future committee. Throughout this process, these countries have been under the impression that it was up to them to determine the composition of the committee and that the United Nations would accept it without further discussion. What was presented in Geneva is clearly unacceptable and clearly considered as such.
If there is any hope of creating a credible constitutional committee, it is up to the regime and its supporters to prove this by the end of the year. We do not intend to close any doors on this matter. A credible committee requires cohesion among a number of parameters: a balanced and mutually agreed membership must be accepted by both parties in equal measure, not simply by the regime; it must not undermine the political process from the outset; there must be equally balanced rules of procedure, proposed by the United Nations; and the membership must be fully committed to the Geneva process, led by the United Nations.
While the United Nations has spent months redoubling its efforts in attempts to arrive at such an agreement, the refusal we have been met with will lead us — if this is confirmed — to explore all modalities of implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) upon the arrival of Geir Pedersen in January. That remains our only road map for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis. The constitutional dimension is but one aspect; any lasting political solution in Syria would require the introduction of several others, although it is clear that there has been little progress with regard to those other components.
To achieve this, we must reaffirm the centrality of United Nations mediation. Resolution 2254 (2015), unanimously adopted by the Council, must remain the framework for all our efforts. More than ever, that is the only common goal that should guide us. The only possible way out of the conflict is through a credible constitutional process and free and impartial elections, under the supervision of the United Nations, and ensuring the participation of all Syrians, whether inside or outside Syria’s borders.
Resolution 2254 (2015) provides for the adoption of confidence-building measures, prioritizing the fate of detainees; protection against political persecution and arbitrary arrests; and guaranteeing the property rights of displaced persons. Those confidence-building measures will serve as the concrete actions needed to establish a safe and neutral environment where each and every Syrian citizen has a place. They are also necessary to establish the political conditions for the voluntary and safe return of refugees and displaced persons. Syria must rebuild itself politically to regain stability. It will also have to rebuild itself as a society; hence why the fight against impunity is unavoidable. The full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) will also mean achieving a lasting ceasefire and ensuring the protection of the people through free and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid throughout Syria.
The Syrian tragedy, due to its terrible human dimension — but also because it reveals and revels in our collective impotence — will remain one of the markers of our generation. It is in that spirit that, in this Chamber and with the French anthropologist Laetitia Atlani-Duault, I call upon us all to ensure that this tragedy does not become the downfall of the United Nations. Today Syria stands at a crossroads, while the risks in Idlib and elsewhere remain immense. Our conviction is that today, perhaps for the first time in the past seven years, we have a narrow window of opportunity to foster real political momentum to settle the Syrian conflict. However, this window of opportunity is likely to disappear, given developments in the situation in recent days.
It is therefore more crucial and more urgent than ever for all of us to shoulder our responsibilities. The Astana guarantors in particular must demonstrate that they can live up to the commitments they have undertaken and ensure their full implementation. For its part, France intends to remain fully committed to contribute to a solution to the Syrian conflict. We hope that this will be the same for everyone, because in the absence of such a solution, now is not the time to allow engagement with Syria to dwindle.
Like Mr. De Mistura, whose exemplary commitment will continue to inspire us, we must remain fully mobilized to achieve a political outcome to the Syrian conflict. The Syrian crisis still poses a serious threat to regional stability and our collective security, and therefore, only a political outcome can enable the country to regain lasting stability. France will not give up and will not disregard, over the course of the coming weeks, any of the possible paths to peace.