Hi, everybody. Good to see you all again. Happy belated Thanksgiving. A short while ago, the members of the Security Council unanimously adopted the December Program of Work. I think you all have copies, and if you don’t, I understand the Spokesman’s office will make them available.
We have a very busy schedule, especially for December, and there’s a lot of work on the Council’s agenda that needs to be addressed, and we also need to be prepared – as we saw this past month – to respond to emergencies and crises as they develop. I’ll just give you the highlights as the Program of Work now looks.
First of all, the situation in Syria will continue to be a critical part of the work of the Council in December, starting tomorrow, when Acting High Representative for the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo will update the Council on the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s progress and address the destruction of the remaining chemical weapon’s production facilities, the Declaration Assessment Team’s work, and the Fact-Finding Mission. As you know, the JIM became operational on November 13th and is proceeding to carry out its very important mandate. Later in the month, on the 21st of December, we will be talking about addressing the humanitarian needs in Syria, as the Council works to renew the authorizations provided by Security Council Resolution 2191. The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will brief the Council on the widespread challenges that the UN humanitarian community and its partners face providing assistance to Syrians in need, especially this reoccurring challenge of cross line assistance.
On Yemen, I flag that we plan to host the first open Security Council briefing since before March. We expect the session will show the Council’s unified support for the UN to convene a new round of political talks and that the session will also highlight Yemen’s growing humanitarian catastrophe. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien highlighted last week the growing concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in the city of Taiz, where Houthi rebels are blocking supply routes and obstructing the delivery of desperately needed aid for approximately 200,000 people. So, between now and when we hold the session on Yemen, that’s going to be a growing area of emphasis for the United States and many of our partners here at the UN, including of course for the UN humanitarian actors on the ground. We have invited UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid to provide his first briefing to the Council on Yemen, along with Under-Secretary-General O’Brien and Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. We will continue to work with the UN and our Security Council partners to address the grave humanitarian concerns, and to try to support a long overdue political solution to the crisis.
As you may know, the Security Council is scheduled to conduct its 18-month review of the Al-Qaida sanctions program, which you’ll see listed on the Program of Work as the 1267/1989 Committee. Over the last year and a half, the Council has done much to focus the Al-Qaida sanctions regime on the ISIL threat and we are now working on a draft resolution that will consolidate and streamline the Council’s recent efforts on ISIL financing, as well as include new steps to make the sanctions more effective. At the same session that we adopt this resolution, we are considering a briefing in the Chamber, perhaps with participation from capitals, and we will soon share more information about this session and its goals. But it could be a landmark session for the Security Council.
Turning now to a different region, December 15th will mark two years since the beginning of the conflict in South Sudan, which has seen tens of thousands of lives lost and unimaginable atrocities, and this crisis as you all know has set this young nation back more than a generation. While there is finally an agreement in place that can lead to peace, the parties have not met critical deadlines on implementation, fighting continues, and the humanitarian situation looks set to worsen significantly in the coming months. Tomorrow, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ellen Loj will update the Council on the Secretariat’s assessment of security planning in Juba, and she will provide an assessment of UNMISS’s ability to support the August 2015 peace agreement. This briefing is very important because it comes as the Council considers next steps in the context of the UNMISS mandate renewal that has to take place before December 15th.
Next door in the Central African Republic, December will be a very big month, as the country continues to try to pull itself out of a continuing cycle of violence, the latest instance of which came today – as some of you saw – when a Muslim man was killed while trying to exit the Muslim PK5 enclave in Bangui. And this is especially sad given that Pope Francis had just conducted his historic visit focused on reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities, and indeed had himself visited the PK5. So we echo the Pope’s call to, as he put it, “say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence.” Moving past the violence will be critical, as CAR will hold a constitutional referendum on December 13th and the first round of presidential and legislative elections on the 27th. These elections have been long in the making and are extremely important. In the Security Council, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General Parfait Onanga-Anyanga will brief on the situation in CAR. This will be the first scheduled briefing since the latest spasm of violence in September, and we look forward to sending clear signals to the armed groups and political spoilers that the international community stands with the people of CAR as they seek to chart a peaceful future.
Elsewhere in the region, although the precise timing remains to be determined, members of the Security Council have expressed deep interest in traveling to Burundi on the heels of Special Senior Adviser Jamal Benomar’s recent trip, the head of the peacebuilding commission’s recent trip as well. Such a trip would demonstrate growing international concern about the escalating violence and growing regional instability. This trip is still in the planning phase, but we will keep you informed as details are finalized.
In addition to these meetings, we will be briefed by Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily on the situation in Central Africa, in particular the regional impact of Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad Basin and of the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose leadership remains at large, even though the army itself has been gravely weakened in recent years. UN Envoy for Western Sahara Christopher Ross is expected to brief the Council on the situation in Western Sahara. We’ll have the annual International Criminal Tribunals debate for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will present her semi-annual briefing on the situation in Darfur. And we’ll have our monthly Middle East briefing and consultations and our quarterly update by DPKO on UNDOF, after which we expect to extend the force’s mandate by six months.
So even though it’s a shortened month because of travel and holidays, we have a very busy agenda and we will of course be following other very troubling situations around the globe and we will schedule briefings and other meetings as the situation warrants it. And we expect to keep you – and ourselves – very busy.
With that, I’m happy to take questions on the December Program of Work or on any other issues in my national capacity.
Hagar Chemali: Thank you. We’ll start here in the corner please with the UN Correspondents Association.
Reporter: Ambassador Power, thank you very much for this briefing – and on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, welcome. My question is that there is a resolution, a Russian resolution that’s supposed to analyze the ISIS situation. Do you think it’s going to have life in December or it’s going to stay seated at the desk where it is now?
Ambassador Power: We only received a copy of the draft Russian resolution late last week and are looking at it. As I mentioned, we also have in parallel discussions about the Al-Qaida/ISIL 1267/1989 regime and so we will look to see whether there are areas of overlap, whether there’s deconfliction that’s needed, how these efforts come together. But, much of the Russian ISIL effort is focused on something that we’re also focused on, which is financing and the need to halt ISIL’s ability to access funds whether through oil sales, or through moving money through the international financial system. So we have a shared objective there, and from a shared objective hope springs eternal.
Ms. Chemali: Wonderful, thank you. Please when you ask a question, please don’t forget to state your name and your outlet as well. Okay, great – we’ll go with Pam Falk please from CBS.
Reporter: Thank you very much, Ambassador, for the briefing and for the month, we look forward to your background and stakeouts. It’s Pam Falk from CBS. My question is about COP21: In your national capacity, or as a UN document, there’s been a back-and-forth about the final product, if it will be legally binding – you’re probably best suited, both as a lawyer and diplomat, to be able to talk to this. The President’s made his position somewhat clearer this morning, or more clear. Can you say in your own words if you believe this will satisfy sort of a compromise position with the European Union colleagues – with them? And also, since you just came back from India, are they the outliers and where do you see them coming out on this? Thank you.
Ambassador Power: Thank you. It is always perilous to speak to an issue the same day the President – who is deeply immersed in the negotiations themselves, from Paris – speaks to an issue. So I’ll be very brief and really let his comments speak for themselves. I think we went into these negotiations seeking the most ambitious agreement possible that also, in an unprecedented way, would have global reach. So that all countries that are part of the international community, but also part of the emissions challenge and the climate change problem, are part of the solution. And in order to get the broadest possible agreement we feel that an emphasis on national plans – and the countries represented in Paris have each brought forward national plans – that if implemented, and that’s the critical part, would have a very important effect on curbing emissions and limiting the increase in temperature that scientists expect in the coming years.
Now, we think it’s essential that in order for those commitments to be implemented, that the transparency and verification measures hold countries to account and that there is follow-through. And so I think, already, you have a kind of bottom-up arrangement here whereby countries are coming forward with their own national plans. We, in our bilateral diplomacy, have encouraged countries to be as ambitious as possible, given the human stakes and the stakes for the planet and for the future of our children and our grandchildren. And now we are entering into a phase where, in the negotiations, we need to settle on verification measures that are going to ensure that those national plans are implemented. And that’s where, again, ensuring that the transparency and verification measures reliably hold countries to their commitments – that’s going to be critically important.
Reporter: And on India?
Ambassador Power: India has to be part of the solution. They’ve come forward with a really important national action plan that I think few would have expected a year ago. President Obama has stressed – as has Prime Minister Modi – the critical importance of India being able to continue to lift its people out of poverty. But lifting people out of poverty is not incompatible with an ambitious climate agreement. Indeed, if climate change continues at the rate it is going, and if the temperatures increase at the rate that scientists fear will happen, that itself is going to set back economic development; not only in small island nations and in underdeveloped countries and elsewhere, but also in India itself. And from my trip to India it’s clear that at the highest levels Indian officials are aware of that and, more importantly, there is a growing public interest I think in the fate of discussions on the environment, on pollution, and indeed on what’s happening in Paris. So we’re still at a difficult phase of the negotiations, and not all of the heterogeneous positions have been reconciled yet. But I think the President has left Paris confident that we are going to get the agreement – the ambitious agreement – that we need, which will be a really important step and a milestone in the international community’s efforts to combat climate change. It will not be a panacea, and one of the things that U.S. officials have stressed continually – and I think with widespread support from other countries – is the importance of coming back quickly with new national action plans in the wake of Paris, so that this is not a one-off where countries rest on the outcomes of Paris. But, of course, first we have to get the outcome we seek.
Ms. Chemali: We will get to everyone, I promise. Or at least I hope. Edie, why don’t you go ahead.
Reporter: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador. Two quick questions: there’s been a lot of talk on whether the Russia-Turkey standoff is going to have an impact on the Syria negotiations and the momentum that seemed to be coming out of the Vienna talks. Could you talk about whether there’s been any movement to actually try and keep those talks on track which is, of course, a top Security Council priority? And on the Program of Work, one of the things I don’t see on the Program is any mention of a human rights meeting on North Korea. I note that a year ago, on December 22nd, there was that arria formula meeting and I don’t see any kind of follow-up.
Ambassador Power: Thank you. Well first, let me take your second question. The December 22nd meeting last year was a regular Council meeting. We had an arria meeting subsequently over the course of the year where defectors got to speak, but it was a landmark meeting in which the human rights crisis inside North Korea became an agenda item for the UN Security Council for the first time. We are continuing to look at the possibility of scheduling another meeting. We think it’s extremely important that the world continue to shine a spotlight, as best we can, from outside North Korea on the human rights situation inside. There have been a number of developments over the course of the year, including the opening of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Korea and a growing number of testimonies of defectors and so forth, which again offer a more detailed glimpse of life behind the lines in North Korea, and it’s a very grim life indeed. So we are still hopeful that we will be able to schedule a meeting, but we just don’t have anything finalized at this time.
In terms of the dynamics between Turkey and Russia, I think on those dynamics specifically I would of course refer you to Turkey and Russia who can speak best to where things stand. President Obama has stressed Turkey’s right, of course, to defend itself and to defend its airspace – that’s a sovereign right. At the same time, he has stressed publicly and privately to both leaders, President Putin and President Erdogan, the critical importance of de-escalation.
I think the part of your question I can speak to though is the Vienna process. Secretary Kerry is energetically working to ensure that the momentum out of the second Vienna meeting is maintained. We are still in discussions with all the Vienna stakeholders about what makes sense next in terms of the next ministerial bite at the apple, and I don’t have anything to announce for you at this time. There is a lot, of course, that remains challenging within the Vienna process and it’s no secret that differences on the fate of Assad continue to divide, at least some of the countries who are part of that process. Having said that, out of the last Vienna meeting it was very important that the countries represented – a very diverse group of countries – agreed to try to move toward a political transition within six months and to elections within 18 months.
The attacks in Paris, the apparent bomb on the Russian plane, the attacks in Turkey and Lebanon – everyday there’s a new reminder not only of how important it is to fight ISIL, but also how critical the political transition in Syria is. Because as long as you have people who are rejecting a government that has gassed its own people, continues to barrel bomb its own people, that is going to be an incubator of terrorism and it is going to set back the cause of destroying and degrading ISIL.
So the difference over Assad predated the incident at the border, it postdates the incident at the border, but I think what we are emphasizing is actually how much we have in common, how much agreement there is about the need for a political transition by mutual consent, about the need to fight ISIL as an abstract matter – everybody agrees on that. We again wish that we would see from Russia more of a concentration of its airpower on ISIL rather than on the groups that themselves are going to be critical to actually being part of a political transition.
Ms. Chemali: Please, go ahead.
Reporter: Okay, thank you. Majeed Gly from Rudaw Media Network that is based in Iraqi Kurdistan. I’d like to ask – the U.S. Treasury Department last week sanctioned an individual, a business man, who was working as a middleman between ISIS and the Syrian government to smuggle oil. Do you think a similar kind of sanctions will be adopted by the Security Council with regard to smuggling oil to ISIS, with other parties that are trading oil with ISIS? Will that be included in the discussions about Al-Qaida committee that you mentioned?
And my second question is – given where I came from, I’ll ask a question about the Kurds. The United States supported the Kurds militarily greatly in the ISIS war, but diplomatically they complain that, for example at the Security Council, there have been many discussions about ISIL but they have not – especially the Kurdistan Regional government – not been invited to be heard about their experience in fighting ISIS. Since, as Secretary Kerry mentioned, they are one of the few effective ground forces fighting ISIL. Do you think there will be in future any invitation for the Kurdistan Regional government to talk about what they need in fighting ISIS in the Council? Thank you.
Ambassador Power: Thank you. On your first question on sanctions designations – we, over the course of the last 18 months, have put in place a very important legal framework, a normative framework as it relates to the financing of terrorist organizations, specifically the financing of ISIL. I think it is very important that real world practice catches up to the legal framework that has been put in place. And that is one of the things that we are looking at here in December as we do this review of the Al-Qaida – ISIL interface and as we do a review of implementation and where the gaps are and where the conflicting reporting streams are – even within the UN system. So we think this is a really good time to calibrate the sanctions architecture and make sure that it is optimized for the threats at the moment.
To your question, that must mean that when people are implicated in selling oil, or obtaining oil from ISIL, and basically profiting or allowing ISIL to profit from those oil transactions, there has to be accountability. Now for accountability there has to be intelligence, there has to be information sharing, and then there has to be a willingness on the part of all Council members to put designations through the committee. We are starting to see progress in that respect but a year from now – given how much transaction is actually apparently going on with ISIL – it is imperative that we see more individuals being held accountable in the way that, as you flag, we have seen in the last stretch.
In terms of the Kurds, let me just say that the United States’ partnership with the Peshmerga and with Kurdish authorities inside Iraq has been extremely fruitful in the fight against ISIL. The most recent example of that, of course, was the taking back from ISIL of – what had become an incredibly symbolic town – the town of Sinjar. So much attention to the symbolism and the grotesque enslavement of the Yezidis that ISIL carried out when it took over Sinjar in the first place, that there’s been less attention to what Sinjar actually represents, which is also a very critical node between Mosul and Raqqa. And that the taking of Sinjar and the bravery of Kurdish forces, who put themselves into that fight and secured that victory, again for the anti-ISIL forces, there needs to be also attention to the strategic importance of that victory.
So I think certainly bilaterally there is no shortage of contact and no shortage of appreciation for what the Peshmerga have done. Indeed much of our training and our assistance and our equipping, as you know, goes to those forces. And it’s important to pull back from where we are today and remember just how vulnerable Kurdistan itself felt, the Kurdish regions of Iraq felt, when ISIL was stampeding through the northern part of Iraq.
In terms of Council interface, I think that’s just something we need to work through with other members of the Council. We are, of course, in parallel completely committed to a unitary, sovereign Iraq and so we want to always make sure that we send the right signals in that respect.
Ms. Chemali: Ok, we’ll go to the back a bit. Let’s go – Lou, can you ask your question please? Go ahead.
Reporter: Thanks. Lou Charbonneau, Reuters. I wanted to ask about two things that you brought up regarding the Program of Work. First of all, the trip to Burundi. I wonder if there’s going to be a regional element of that or if it’s just going to Burundi? And the reason I ask is because one of the themes that has been recurring in Africa has been leaders wanting to hang on to their positions longer than often they’re supposed to. I mean we’ve got the case next to Burundi, we’ve got Rwanda, President Kagame’s planning to extend his stay. I mean, is this a trend that worries you, is this something you want to deal with? And then regarding Syria, has there been any progress made in determining who among the opposition is going to be attending and also who is not going to be attending? In other words, who is going to be considered a terrorist and not have a seat at the table? Thanks.
Ambassador Power: Thank you. I think there were maybe three questions in that, so let me just start with the trip itself, which again is as yet notional and unscheduled, but for which there is unanimous Council support. I think our view, given the EAC designated role in mediation and given the very, very strong AU communique and of course the fact that Africans have a very vested interest in ensuring and seeking to ensure that Burundi gets back on track and that the deterioration and escalation ceases and a political solution is found, I think it’s going to be imperative to have some kind of African component to the trip. What form that takes, whether that’s a stop in Addis, as we have done on past trips, whether there are individuals from the region or the subregion who join us in Burundi, I think those are the kinds of modalities that we need to work through, of course also with the Government of Burundi.
In terms of what appears to be maybe in the water in certain parts of Africa – this desire to extend one’s term or to ignore term limits or to change constitutions or to change judges on constitutional courts so the constitutional courts interpret constitutions in different forms, this is a very worrying trend. I think no one has spoken more eloquently to this than President Obama on his trip to the African Union.
And I was just in Sri Lanka, in addition to visiting India, and it was so completely striking to hear from the Sri Lankan President a series of steps that he’s seeking to take to shrink his power and to actually restore the checks and balances that had existed. And it was very countercultural, given what is happening in parts of Africa. I would note the successful elections in Burkina Faso over the last couple days and I think the opportunity that exists in that country. And that was a result of citizens standing up and saying “we get a vote here,” as it were, and now hopefully Burkina Faso is on a different kind of track.
With regard to President Kagame specifically, let me just take the occasion to speak to that. President Kagame has an opportunity to set an example for a region in which leaders seem too tempted to view themselves as indispensable to their own country’s trajectories. We saw President Kikwete set a similar example recently giving up power peacefully. And we really do expect President Kagame to follow through on the commitments that he has made many times in the past to allow the next generation of leaders to come forward and to help shepherd Rwanda, which has come so far – just an unbelievable recovery on so many fronts – but to shepherd the country through the next phase. And so we expect President Kagame to step down at the end of his term in 2017. We are aware of all of the parliamentary maneuverings that have occurred but he has not yet spoken to his intentions. And again, we think it’s extremely important that Rwanda – which has been a model on public health, on women’s representation, on education – that it make itself an example on democratic governance and on the importance of term limits. Nobody is indispensable.
Now your third question was –
Reporter: Syria. Who’s a terrorist? Who’s an opposition member to be invited?
Ambassador Power: Sorry, thank you. I got carried away on term limits. I think that, as you know, Jordan was given the task of working with other stakeholders in the Vienna group to work through that issue. We have a system here in New York for designating terrorist groups. It’s a system that we have used to designate Al-Qaida, to designate ISIL, to designate Al Nusra as an Al-Qaida affiliate, to designate Boko Haram as another example. So I think we’re waiting to hear from the Jordanians and to see how that process takes hold. In the meantime, again, I think these Security Council designations are very important markers.
Ms. Chemali: Sherwin, go ahead, please.
Reporter: Thank you so much, Ambassador, back here, next to Lou, South African Broadcasting. I’m going to keep you in the region on Burundi. I wanted to get your reaction to Mr. Jamal Benomar’s presentation to Council yesterday and the Secretary-General’s preferred choice on the future UN role in Burundi. What’s your reaction to that in light of what the former President said yesterday, sort of raising questions about whether an enhanced support mission is any different to what the Council has previously approved? What is the United States’ view on the future role in Burundi?
Ambassador Power: Thank you. Well first, some context. As the situation in Burundi has deteriorated, the UN role itself has diminished. So it’s exactly the wrong trajectory that one would wish to see at just the time you would wish to have more eyes and ears on the ground, more monitoring, the UN presence was getting drawn down because of the Government of Burundi’s desire to see it drawdown. So we think it is very important that Mr. Benomar has been able to establish a dialogue now with President Nkurunziza, that there’s a willingness to see the UN increase its presence. I, right now, would focus on that as also a way of figuring out what the appropriate next step is. The assessment that was delivered to the Council yesterday was done, rightly, on a very short fuse. But getting that foothold, establishing that dialogue, also for the Council and the Secretary-General and Jamal Benomar to be backing the African Union in its efforts to get human rights observers into Burundi. It’s been now many months since the African Union authorized the deployment of 100 human rights observers – that has not happened, at least according to AU sources we have.
So I would not view the briefing that Mr. Benomar delivered yesterday as a decisive, on/off switch, ‘here, choose your pathway now forever more.’ I would view it as: what is the immediate next step that the UN is seeking to take, given a deteriorating environment, given the absence of a political dialogue, given the absence of accountability for violent crimes against civilians? And I think we take it from here. It’s a fluid situation, but there’s a recognition on behalf of certainly all Council members that we need more eyes and ears on the ground. And again, we need not only to reverse or to halt the trajectory of the withdrawal of the UN, but to reverse it and then to begin to think about what kind of presence makes sense. So nothing final, at this point.
Ms. Chemali: Evelyn, please go ahead.
Reporter: Thank you. Evelyn Leopold, Huffington Post contributor. On Burundi again, to follow-up – if you’re going to do peacekeeping, it takes a long time to organize a peacekeeping force. Isn’t it a bit too late, considering we all have Rwanda in mind and how fast that deteriorated? And secondly, is there any skepticism greeting President Obama in COP21? Nearly every Republican running for President as well as the current Congress is a climate change science denier, believes the earth is flat. So it’s an uphill climb for him to inaugurate his program.
Ambassador Power: Is that a comment? What was the question? Oh – is it an uphill climb? I’m sorry.
Reporter: And was he greeted with skepticism at all because of it?
Ambassador: I think President Obama is familiar with being greeted skeptically by various domestic constituencies, and in the case of climate, no amount of skepticism is going to deter him. This is one of the most critical issues of our time – it’s an existential issue for our planet and for individuals who are increasingly affected by conflicts that are themselves fueled at least in part by shrinking resources that are brought about by devastating weather conditions and weather changes.
My sense – I haven’t had a chance to talk to the President since he’s been in Paris – but certainly from everything I’ve seen from our team, people have really welcomed American leadership. I don’t think that if people were skeptical that we could deliver, that we would have been able to secure the really important bilateral agreement with China that I think really helped energize the lead up to Paris. I think our dialogue with India and the plan that they have produced and some of the cooperation that we are undertaking on clean energy comes from people’s recognition that much of what the President has set in motion here in the United States is going to be enduring.
The private sector in the United States is voting with its feet. And there’s a DNA in that that is going to be very, very lasting. So I think that our leadership and what we’ve been able to do with our leadership in order to mobilize commitments from other countries, working with our partners in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere – I think it speaks for itself.
On your first question on Burundi, on peacekeeping missions – look, it’s really important to say we are not in a Rwanda situation in Burundi, and everything that the Council has done, and everything that the United States has done over the last year and a half has been aimed at seeking to avoid mass atrocities in Burundi. So whether that’s bilateral visits that I, as a member of President Obama’s cabinet, took on his behalf; whether it’s the Security Council visit back in March; whether it is the contingency planning that we are encouraging the AU, the EAC, the UN, and others to undertake – we have to prepare for the worst. But everything we do every day needs to be aimed at ensuring that the worst never comes to pass.
And the United States set in motion last week also several sanctions designations – four sanctions designations: two against individuals in the Burundian government that have orchestrated and helped organize the violence against civilians – people who oppose the government or oppose the third term – which was out of step with the Arusha agreement, which was a really important social compact for Burundi, but two sanctions designations also against those who took up violence against the government. Because nobody should be under any illusions, whatever issues one may have with the way in which President Nkurunziza has proceeded over the course of the last year, given again the very explicit two-term limit in the Arusha Agreement, there’s no excuse for violence and for targeted assassinations, and the kinds of things that are transpiring on the streets of Burundi now.
So contingency planning is critical, preventive diplomacy is critical, pressure tools like sanctions are extremely important, and our goal again is to avoid that scenario. If the contingency planning is done right then there will need to be an ability to deploy quickly, if the worst case scenario should transpire. But there’s no way we’re going to concede that that’s where this is heading at this point.
Ms. Chemali: James, please go ahead.
Reporter: James Bays from Al Jazeera. A follow-up question on the political track on Syria, and the question really to take stock of where we are – four and a half years of appalling bloodshed and crimes, four and a half years of diplomacy that’s gone on and on and on and just repeatedly failed. I’d like to ask you where we are at this moment, and ask you, do the people of Syria now have the chance of a little bit of hope?
Ambassador Power: Well, I think that there’s no way to overstate how often their hopes have been dashed. How devastating the circumstances are in which they have had to live – even those who have made it out of Syria, as we see from the kinds of risk that parents are prepared to take on behalf of their kids. It’s because the conditions in neighboring countries – an inability to send your kids to school, an inability to work in many cases, a halving of rations because the money’s drying up because of all the demands on the global humanitarian system. So, the first point is just to very much embrace the premise of your question, which is Syrians have lived in deplorable conditions for too long.
I think that we have not seen this kind of momentum around the diplomatic and political track in a very long time, and arguably ever. So, that is where one can have at least cause to pay attention to what is going on in diplomatic circles.
There are still large differences of position, but the fact of the United States, our European partners, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, the Emirates, Jordan, Lebanon, the countries that are themselves also neighbors to this – and having had to bear so much of the humanitarian burden – that all of those stakeholders are this energized and that each Vienna meeting has moved the ball somewhat and has secured an agreement that the previous meeting had not secured – I think is really important.
The meeting that Saudi Arabia is hosting among opposition elements is critically important. We need, now, to be able to show the people of Syria that there is a dividend to this process, that ceasefires can be brokered and that they can actually stick. And I think that is the measure of all of this diplomacy fundamentally is going to be: is anybody safer; is anybody able to live with more dignity; is anybody able to return home because they feel that they won’t have the threat of air power, or of the threat of an ISIL suicide bomb or execution nearby.
So, we’ve got to keep plugging along, but I think to have all of this diplomatic capital and time invested at a senior level means that if there is common ground to be found, Secretary Kerry and others will wring it out of this process to find it.
We do need Russia and Iran to shift their positions on the political transition, because they cannot achieve their objectives on ISIL as long as Assad is in power.
Ms. Chemali: We only have time for a couple more questions. Matt, please go ahead.
Reporter: Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, here’s hoping the Mission will do stakeouts after consultations so we can find out what’s happening in there.
Ambassador Power: It’s not nearly as interesting as you would expect.
Reporter: Well, at least we can ask. On the Program of Work you have Yemen and you also have Sudan ICC. So I wanted to ask about something that brings them together, which is the presence, or the use in the coalition of Sudanese troops in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. Some people have said it’s sort of strange, given their record, and the fact that the government of Sudan is under ICC indictment for the use of these troops in Darfur – it seems like a funny part of the coalition in Yemen. So I wanted your thoughts on that.
And also, during the month of December, the long-delayed report on sexual abuse in Central African Republic is supposed to come out – it was supposed to come out in the summer, then in November. So I’m wondering, do you think that the Council will, given the importance of this issue, of peacekeepers and accountability if abuse does take place, will the Council take it up? And what do you think, either personally or nationally, should happen?
Ambassador Power: Thank you. Well on the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation – I did travel all the way to India and did give a speech and a third of which was dedicated to that topic because it is clear that whatever the notional zero tolerance policy that exists here, the spate of allegations is extremely disturbing and the loss of trust that results when civilians who were counting on the UN for protection begin to view them as predators, cannot be overstated.
And I think the Secretary-General has taken a series of steps now that are aimed at filling some of the gaps that have existed. But fundamentally, if we don’t do what I sought to do on my visit overseas and what we are now doing bilaterally around the world, which is elevate the issue of accountability in capitals, every capital – including if U.S. personnel were accused of carrying out these kinds of abuses. Where the accountability needs to exist in the first instance is of course at the UN, those individuals need to be repatriated and an investigation needs to be launched. But fundamentally, it is the Member States that are going to need to take ownership of what their troops are doing in other countries as if it was happening in one’s own country, and against one’s own families.
I don’t really have a comment on the Sudan – excuse me, let me finish on CAR. I don’t yet know in terms of how we will take it up. We do have, as I mentioned, a lot happening related to CAR. It’s possible you could combine discussion of the report. I think it depends on the precise timing. But if it isn’t in this month, it certainly will be something the United States will support discussing at the earliest possible occasion.
On Sudan and Yemen – I mean I would just, first of all, underscore that under the leadership in Khartoum, the Sudanese government has fought in a manner – whether it was against the South Sudanese people, for many, many years, or in Kordofan and Blue Nile, now over the last couple of years – God knows in Darfur – the manner in which Sudan has employed force has consistently ignored or violated international humanitarian law. I mean, there’s just no way around it. It is – the use of indiscriminate weapons of war and seemingly scant regard for civilian life. So we would be very concerned that units, certainly any units that were involved in the kinds of atrocities we have seen in Darfur on the ground or from the air, or those in other parts of Sudan, if they were involved elsewhere, and have encouraged the coalition to be extremely discerning and to make every effort to ensure that anything that they are doing in Yemen is in compliance with IHL.
Ms. Chemali: And last question, just because the Ambassador has a hard stop today. Somini, please go ahead.
Reporter: Thank you very much. On the question of Syria political talks: Is it likely that the next Vienna meeting could happen in New York, in December? Are you preparing for that? And for that to happen, do you need some agreement in Saudi Arabia first on who is participating in the intra-Syrian dialogue?
And just secondly, in your national capacity please, –
Ambassador Power: I think everything has been in my national capacity – just for the record, so far.
Reporter: What’s the U.S. position on how to select the next Secretary-General? Do you think that it should change? And if so, how?
Ambassador Power: Okay, in terms of our plans for December, I don’t have anything to announce. I think there are a lot of different views among the different Vienna stakeholders as to where it would make sense to meet next. There is significant enthusiasm to keep the momentum going, particularly with regard to thinking through whether local ceasefires might be possible on an expedited basis.
I think we will look to see what happens with the Saudi Arabia opposition conference and see how these two strands come together. But our ambition is certainly to do another ministerial meeting in December and we are, I think, open to a number of different venues, one of which is New York.
And then the other question was on the choice of the Secretary-General. I don’t have much to say. I think that the – we are now, as the President, we have been handed the task of trying to shepherd through this letter that has been languishing for some time. Or thriving, by itself, for some time. [Laughter.] And that is a big priority. There is huge interest outside the Security Council in getting that letter out. There is great interest, as you know, in a more inclusive process, a more transparent process. The United States will do everything in our power to try to ensure that that happens, including by participating in regional meetings or whatever other groupings decide to pull together. So we are also taking in the views of other Member States. I think the process is really just getting going, we’ll start to pick up in earnest in the New Year, probably in the spring. But I don’t have anything to add to that other than we will do our best to get this letter out, which should kick off that process.
Ms. Chemali: Thank you so much.
Source: Photos: EuropaNewswire, U.S. Mission to the United Nations