To chart the challenging course towards peace in Syria [fr]
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United NationsRetour ligne automatique
Security Council - 11 September 2018
On behalf of France, allow me to begin by conveying the solidarity of my country and all French citizens with our American friends and the United States, as a whole, as we remember the tragedy that took place on 11 September 2001. I also hope that the spirit of unity that prevailed on 9/11, which I myself felt very deeply as I was in the United States at the time, could provide genuine inspiration for our work.
I thank the American presidency of the Council and Russia for convening today’s meeting as an extension of the meetings held late last week. My statement will be relatively brief. I will focus on two priority issues that France believes are complementary and inextricably linked: first, preventing a military offensive in Idlib, which would open one of the bloodiest chapters of the Syrian tragedy and lead to dire consequences; and, secondly, creating genuine momentum for a political settlement to the conflict. We all know that the path is an extremely difficult one, but we also believe that a solution is possible.
Despite calls from the international community, the number of which is unprecedented in recent history, the Tehran meeting did not lead to a firm commitment on the part of Russia and Iran to preserving the de-escalation that they themselves had guaranteed. In the wake of the Tehran summit, millions of Syrians in Idlib remain uncertain that their lives will be spared. On the contrary, in the wake of the Tehran summit the Russian air force resumed its aerial bombardment in support of the regime.
Let us be clear: our common priority continues to be combating terrorism, and it could, and should, bring us together. As Council members are aware, France is fully playing its part in that regard. But that fight cannot justify indiscriminate attacks against civilians or serious violations of international humanitarian law. Such attacks constitute a humanitarian tragedy as well as a strategic absurdity, in that they fuel the very terrorism they purport to combat. Hence, Syria has become the pre-eminent breeding ground for terrorism. Among the 3 million people who are being held hostage in Idlib — a number greater than the population of Paris — many of them took to the streets peacefully last week to say how unfairly they are being targeted, to express their rejection of terrorism and to recall their legitimate aspirations for the rule of law in Syria. Those massive demonstrations, whose images we have seen, show the faces behind the numbers.
We know — and it was extensively detailed last Friday (see S/PV.8345) — how a major offensive in Idlib would have disastrous consequences for the country and the region, in humanitarian, security and political terms.
On the humanitarian front, several tens of thousands of people have begun to reach northern Idlib to flee the bombing. They are only the first in what could be a new and unprecedented migration crisis, of which Turkey, which already hosts nearly 15 per cent of the Syrian population who fled the regime’s massacres since 2011, will be the first to be impacted. We must do everything possible to ensure safe, full and unhindered humanitarian access to the entire population in need. In that regard, I commend the heroic role being played by the White Helmets in going to the aid of civilians under bombardment, at the risk of their own lives and in the midst of the ruins and rubble.
France also reiterates that it will not tolerate any new use of chemical weapons. Along with our close partners, we stand ready to respond in the event of a chemical attack. Our most senior officials have unambiguously spoken on that point.
Maintaining the ceasefire and protecting civilians, including humanitarian personnel, must be the first priority for actors on the ground. That is why Russia must become involved. I welcome the involvement of the United Nations in deterring escalation and preparing to deal with it in the event. We must do everything possible to prevent civilians from being targeted. We therefore have a collective responsibility to leave no stone unturned — to turn off our automatic pilot — so as to find areas of agreement and together explore every possible solution, including the most creative, to avoid military escalation and open up the way for a political settlement. Such a solution, if we succeed in coming together, could be at hand tomorrow. That is why we need to allow time for dialogue so that solutions emerge. That is our first priority today. At the moment, the guarantors’ task is to avert the irreversible and to take the time needed to find an agreement by working together with us all.
Let us be clear as well that the situation in Idlib is a further illustration, were there a need for one, of three facts that everyone must clearly bear in mind: Syria is in not a country that is returning to normalcy, quite the opposite is true; the Syrian tragedy is not behind us, indeed the worst could be ahead in the event of a major offensive in Idlib; and the total military retaking of Idlib, in which the regime and its supporters are engaged, will not make it possible to stabilize the country and will produce only more chaos, which is to say that the same causes produce the same effects. Therefore, and I say it again, the only real and lasting way out of the conflict is a negotiated political solution that is acceptable to all. There is no solution other than recourse to the demanding path of negotiation.
And therefore our values, interests and realpolitik demand that we come together to fully and collectively support the efforts of the United Nations Special Envoy to relaunch the Geneva process. That includes the establishment of a constitutional committee as soon as possible, which could be the key to at last clearing the path to a political solution. Its work could begin without delay, in a truly independent way, under the auspices of the United Nations.
Resolution 2254 (2015) provides the elements for a broader political solution, namely, a constitution, free and transparent elections in which all Syrians, including displaced persons and refugees, can vote, and the establishment of a safe, secure and neutral environment, guaranteed by confidence-building measures. We are two weeks away from the commencement of the general debate at the General Assembly, where our leaders will all be gathered. Let us take advantage of that opportunity before us.
The road map we are proposing is clear: strong commitment by the parties to a ceasefire in order to spare the civilian population of Idlib; speeding up the political process, with the first step being collective support for the launch of the work of a constitutional committee; and the joining together by the members of the Security Council in support of a constructive political agenda at the General Assembly to force destiny and seize a concerted, peaceful resolution to the conflict. The reconstruction of Syria is conceivable only on that basis — when an irreversible, credible and inclusive political transition gets under way.
I say again to Russia that the ball is in its court. It should assume clear and firm commitments to avoid the irreparable in Idlib and reassure the civilians there, afford more time for dialogue to identify a solution for Idlib, and come together with us to chart the challenging course towards peace in Syria. France stands ready to contribute to that end without losing a minute. Let us all get to work