6710th Meeting (PM)
Ministerial-level Representatives Hear Briefing by Senior Regional Officials
High-level officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other Member States converged on the Security Council today to press for the adoption of a draft resolution that would support a plan by the League of Arab States to stem the bloodshed in Syria, and which calls on the country’s President to step aside as part of a democratic transition process.
At the same time, representatives of the Council’s two other permanent members, the Russian Federation and China, continued to oppose any action hinting at regime change, coercive measures or other foreign interference in Syria, with the Russian representative warning that such an intervention could spark catastrophic civil war and destabilize the region.
In addition to the Secretary of State of the United States, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and the Foreign Minister of France, elected Council members Guatemala, Portugal, Morocco and Germany were also represented by senior Foreign Ministry officials today.
Briefing the Council, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Muhammad Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar and Chairman of the Arab League’s Ministerial Council, noted that the regional body, meeting in Cairo on 22 January, had requested Security Council support for its plan, which had subsequently been transmitted to the 15-member United Nations organ via a 24 January letter from the Secretary-General (document S/2012/71).
He recalled that the decision had been taken after numerous League initiatives to help end the violence, the last of which was the observer mission suspended last weekend. “Our efforts and initiatives have been in vain for the Syrian Government has not made any sincere effort to cooperate with our efforts, and, unfortunately, its only solution has been to kill its own people,” he said.
The plan, as conveyed by the Secretary-General’s letter and described today by Sheikh Hamad and Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, calls for the beginning of genuine political dialogue between the Syrian Government and the opposition, under League auspices and within two weeks, as well as the formation of a unity Government within two months, to be followed by supervised parliamentary and presidential elections. President Bashar al-Assad would hand over his powers to his Vice-President for the transition period, according to the plan.
There was no hidden agenda against the Syrian regime, Mr. Elaraby emphasized. The objective was to stop the massive killing and repression, which had been condemned around the world. The League was not calling for military intervention or regime change — the latter being a matter for the Syrian people to decide — but it was advocating “concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realize that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people”.
Taking the floor immediately after the Arab League presentations, Syria’s representative said he found it strange to see Arab leaders calling for action against his country, which had sacrificed much for Arab causes, and joining with other States that wished to destroy Syria through the dissemination of false facts. He reiterated that the violence was the work of armed groups twisting the call for reform into chance to wreak havoc. Syrians, themselves, would resolve the historic challenges facing their homeland without outside intervention, he affirmed, equating the latter to colonialism.
He called on all those fomenting violence in Syria to support national dialogue and the reform process being implemented by the national leadership, which included a popular referendum later this month on the way ahead. That would be followed by parliamentary elections in the first half of the year, he said, appealing to the Council not to take actions that would exacerbate the crisis. He said the Arab League was no longer credible in the situation, adding: “Without Syria, there is no Arab League.”
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of Council members cited a death toll in the thousands that was growing daily, agreeing on the critical need to end the violence, to ensure respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to avoid military intervention, at least at the present stage of the crisis. Council members supporting the Arab League plan stressed the need for action following months in which, they said, the Syrian Government had failed to carry out its commitments and had instead ramped up the killing and human rights abuses so as to retain power. They stressed that they were not advocating intervention but democratic transition, with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring: “We all have a choice — whether to stand with the people of Syria and the region, or become complicit in the violent crackdown.”
However, the Russian Federation’s representative said that, instead of interfering in Syria, it was now more important than ever to encourage dialogue among Syrians. The Council should be guided by the principle of non-imposition, he said, emphasizing that his country would not stand for any sanctions or any window allowing military intervention in the future. He noted, however, that the draft resolution submitted by Morocco incorporated many of the elements previously suggested by his own country, and he was, therefore, hopeful that consensus on the situation would soon be reached.
Some speakers supported the Arab League’s role, while speaking of the conundrum presented by a situation in which the principles of non-intervention and protection of civilians were in conflict. India’s representative also pointed out that neither repression nor outside intervention could fulfil the Syrian people’s aspirations to play a greater role in shaping their own destiny. “The Syrian people demand and deserve empowerment so that a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political solution can be found in an atmosphere free of violence and bloodshed,” he said.
The representatives of Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Togo, Colombia and South Africa also delivered statements.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 6:33 p.m.