Western Coalition Threatens Instead of Divulging Plans for Idlib, Says Russian Federation Representative, Citing Warnings to Syria
By violating the last de‑escalation zone in the Syria conflict, the Russian Federation and Iran are not demonstrating a commitment to protecting civilian lives, and it is absurd to think the world will pay for reconstruction as they pummel Idlib, the representative of the United States told the Security Council today.
Speaking in her national capacity as members considered the outcome of the Astana summit held in Tehran last week, the Council President for September said the Russian Federation and Iran have been using outright lies to “distort the conversation”, adding that this month alone, the world has seen more than 100 air strikes in Idlib, targeting hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as “double‑tap” attacks on “white helmets”. She warned that the United States will respond if chemical weapons are used.
The Russian Federation’s delegate responded by noting that many speakers requested that his country divulge its plans for Idlib, yet his delegation would also like members of the Western Coalition to outline their own plans. Instead of sharing that information, they continue to issue threats, he said. During the Council meeting on 7 September, Western colleagues began to warn that a military operation by Syria would merit the use of force against a sovereign State, he recalled. “Let us be clear; we are not talking about a military operation here, we are talking about a counter‑terrorism operation.”
Earlier, he briefed the 15‑member Council on the outcome of the Astana summit, describing it as “a major milestone” in efforts to restore peace in Syria. The joint statement issued by the Presidents of the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey reaffirmed their commitments to eliminating terrorists, protecting civilians, rebuilding the country and moving the political process forward, he said. Furthermore, they agreed unanimously on the effectiveness of the Astana process, rejecting “political blackmailing” by the United States and other Western partners and pledging to continue the tripartite dialogue.
Iran’s representative said that, as a victim of chemical weapons, his country’s Government strongly condemns any use of such weapons by anyone, anytime and anywhere. Syria has destroyed all its chemical weapons under international supervision, and it is therefore a fabrication to allege that the Government of Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons. He stressed that the three guarantors are determined to continue their cooperation to eliminate all terrorists designated as such by the Security Council, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Nusrah Front.
Turkey’s delegate warned that an all‑out military operation will result in a massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for his country, which already hosts 3.5 million refugees. Noting that the Syrian regime seeks to legitimize its operation on counter‑terrorism grounds, he cautioned that a military operation in Idlib will only play into the hands of terrorists.
The United Kingdom’s representative said the Security Council faces a choice between a military assault on Idlib in which thousands of civilians will die, and allowing Turkey and opposition groups the support, time and space to separate out and tackle the terrorists. Council members should be discussing how the Syrian regime can work with the opposition to restore security and stability to Idlib, she emphasized, asking why the Council cannot spend time building upon the efforts of the Astana process.
Poland’s delegate struck a similar note, expressing her delegation’s disappointment that the Astana summit ended without tangible agreement.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Netherlands, France, China, Sweden, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Peru, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia.
As the meeting began, Council members observed a moment of silence to honour the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The meeting began at 11:05 a.m. and ended at 12:52 p.m.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity at the outset of today’s meeting, calling upon fellow Council members to observe a moment of silence in honour of the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) briefed the Council on the outcome of the Astana meeting among the Presidents of his own country as well as those of Iran and Turkey, held in Tehran last week. Describing that summit as a major milestone in efforts to restore peace in Syria, he said the three leaders reaffirmed the importance of, among other things, eliminating terrorists, protecting civilians, rebuilding the country and moving the political process forward. Emphasizing that the guarantors are committed to respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said the leaders also discussed ways to end terrorism, which threatens regional security. The guarantors also demand that armed groups stop shelling civilian areas, he said, stressing that it is unacceptable to spare terrorists, especially those affiliated with Al‑Qaida, which perpetrated the 11 September 2001 attacks. Underlining that there is no alternative to a political solution, he warned against a military strike by Western nations, saying Syria lacks the facilities to produce chemical weapons. The three Presidents agreed unanimously on the effectiveness the Astana process — including the dialogue on post‑conflict rebuilding, humanitarian aid and political transformation — he reported, rejecting political “blackmailing” by Western nations. They also discussed how to facilitate the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes in Syria, he noted, adding that the next Astana process summit will be held in the Russian Federation.
KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), emphasizing that the risk of rapid escalation involving regional and international players has never been greater, said the focus must shift to diplomacy and a political solution, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). Expressing disappointment with the outcome of the Tehran summit, he said that if Iran and the Russian Federation are serious about de‑escalation, they must immediately halt the aerial attacks and the military build‑up around Idlib. “Combating terrorism is no excuse to attack without distinction or proportionality,” he stressed. If the Astana guarantors want international support for their efforts to separate Nusrah Front from other armed groups in Idlib, they must be transparent about their plans. Voicing shock at the reported targeting of “white helmets” members and three hospitals over the weekend, he underlined that impunity for crimes against humanity cannot prevail and that referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court remains the best option.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the fight against terrorism cannot justify indiscriminate attacks on civilians and grave violations of international humanitarian law. Noting that everyone knows a major offensive in Idlib could have disastrous humanitarian, security and political consequences for Syria and the region, he emphasized that France will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons and will, with its close partners, respond in the event of such an attack. Upholding the ceasefire and protecting civilians, including humanitarian workers, must be the priority for those on the ground, he said, calling upon the Russian Federation to commit itself in that regard. The situation in Idlib illustrates that Syria is not on the path to normalization and that the war is not over, he added. A military victory will not bring stability to Syria and will only generate chaos, he said, stressing that a negotiated political solution is the only credible outcome acceptable to all. The ball is in the Russian Federation’s court, he said, calling upon that country to reassure civilians in Idlib, leave more time for dialogue and join others in finding a political solution to the conflict.
MA ZHAOXU (China) commended recent efforts by the Astana guarantor States to push for a political settlement of the Syria conflict, as well as the increased engagement of the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy. Emphasizing that there is no alternative to a political settlement, he urged full respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and warned against the threat of force “by reflex”. All parties should take measures to spare innocent civilians from harm, he said, adding that the international community should continue to leverage the role of the United Nations as primary negotiator in Syria and help to guide the parties through a realistic, peaceful dialogue process. In that regard, China hoped that recent efforts towards the establishment of a constitutional committee in Syria would lead to further progress.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), voicing deep concern at the recent escalation of violence by Syria and the Russian Federation in Idlib and surrounding areas, reiterated that all parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian objects and comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and avoidance of unnecessary suffering. “Idlib is different from other areas — there is nowhere to flee,” he pointed out, adding that more than 3 million civilians live in the area, designated a de‑escalation zone. The Astana States that met on 7 September must step up efforts to uphold their own de‑escalation agreement, ensure humanitarian access and the protection of civilians, and avoid any further military escalation, he emphasized. “It is urgent to act now to avoid the enormous humanitarian catastrophe that would unfold before our eyes in case of a large‑scale military offensive in Idlib.” Calling upon the Council to explore all meaningful options to prevent such an eventuality, he urged members to consider the ideas proposed by the Special Envoy during his briefing on 7 September.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) recalled that his delegation has always expressed its disapproval of the use of force, no matter the perpetrator. The same is the case in relation to Idlib, where 3 million civilians reside, facing the potential future use of chemical weapons. While the 7 September summit among the Astana guarantor States “offers a glimmer of hope”, it is regrettable that the Council’s many appeals for restraint have not led to a sustainable de‑escalation of hostilities, he said, emphasizing that there is still time to prevent a still larger humanitarian catastrophe, while appealing to all parties to refrain from any further military escalation.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) warned against any military escalation in Idlib — which would disproportionately impact women and children — while expressing concern about recent reports from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs regarding the flow of some 30,000 persons from the province. If military intervention is pursued there, the door to a severe humanitarian catastrophe will be swung open, he said, calling on all parties to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and protection of civilians. The fact that terrorism threatens those living in Idlib cannot justify military intervention, he reiterated, calling upon the parties to devote more time to diplomatic efforts “to avoid the spilling of more blood” and reach a political solution. Meanwhile, the Council must continue to keep a very close eye on the situation and commit to shouldering its responsibilities to the civilians in Idlib.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) welcomed the joint declaration emanating from the 7 September trilateral summit, noting that it includes a common understanding that provocations are unacceptable, and a reconfirmed commitment to preserving Syria’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some of the most notable parts of the outcome text refer to cooperation against terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Nusrah Front and Al‑Qaida, as well as the importance of distinguishing between terrorists and armed opposition groups participating in the ceasefire. The document’s emphasis on a political solution will contribute to the final formation of a constitutional committee and have a positive impact in helping Syria to hold free elections. At the same time, the world community should direct its joint efforts at creating the conditions needed for the settlement of the intra‑Syrian conflict exclusively by peaceful means, he said, adding that States should also contribute to rebuilding the country and address its complex humanitarian situation. In that vein, he proposed convening an international conference on Syrian refugees as a concrete first step.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), while taking note of the joint declaration issued by the Presidents of the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey, expressed regret over attacks in the last few days that killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure. The perpetrators must be held accountable, he emphasized, adding that the guarantors of the Astana process, with their influence over Syria, have a unique role to play in that regard. He reminded them that it was they who established the de‑escalation zone in Idlib, and stressed the need for the Security Council to send a firm message that it will not tolerate impunity or violations of international law.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said the fight against terrorism is a shared task for the international community and welcomes the outcome of the Astana summit. He stressed the importance of de‑escalating violence in Idlib and of confidence‑building measures, while also highlighting the need for unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, and facilitation of any return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of origin. Efforts to separate Nusrah Front from other armed groups in Idlib must be guided by principles, he emphasized. Bolivia rejected any fragmentation of Syria and supported the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said, reiterating that there is no military solution.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said her delegation is deeply alarmed by the fact that the Astana guarantors do not respect ceasefire‑related commitments and obligations. “We are disappointed that a meeting of the guarantors in Tehran ended without tangible conclusions”, urging the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey, as well as other actors with influence, to redouble efforts to protect Idlib’s civilian population. If an extensive military operation is undertaken there, innocent civilians will bear the brunt of the hostilities, she said, emphasizing that the Security Council has the responsibility to prevent such a tragedy.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said today’s meeting is critical at a time when the international community’s eyes are all on Idlib, emphasizing the need for action to stave off a broader humanitarian crisis there. Equatorial Guinea welcomes recent political efforts by the Astana guarantors, their determination to eradicate terrorist groups, and their commitment — as outlined in the Tehran meeting’s outcome document — to prioritize political solutions over military action. All actors should refrain from any “all-out military offensive”, which would lead to a bloodbath, he said, noting that recent history has shown that even if terrorists are defeated on the battlefield, they will not be fully destroyed. Calling upon all those with influence over the parties to exert it with the aim of pursuing further political negotiations and non‑military alternatives for ending the Syria conflict, he said the Council must work together to protect the 3 million civilians “who find themselves in Idlib with nowhere else to go”.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) reiterated that any further military escalation in Idlib might aggravate the humanitarian crisis and negatively impact assistance programmes upon which millions of people already depend. It is vital that the Astana guarantor States continue to abide by their de‑escalation agreement and find a sustainable solution that will protect civilians and civilian facilities, she said. Meanwhile, facilitating rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access remains critical to ensuring that the United Nations and its partners are able to deliver aid to all those in need. Ethiopia supports consideration of the proposal outlined by the Special Envoy last week, she said, adding that he should seek to discuss that idea during his ongoing consultations with the Astana guarantors in Geneva.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) strongly agreed with the President of Turkey — writing in the Wall Street Journal today — that a military attack on Idlib will only create new hotbeds of terrorism. The Security Council is facing a choice between a military assault on Idlib in which thousands of civilians will die, and allowing Turkey and opposition groups the support, time and space to separate out and tackle the terrorists themselves. Council members should be talking about how the regime can work with the opposition to restore security and stability to Idlib, she said, asking why the Council could not spend time building upon the efforts of the Astana process. Noting that every speaker in the Council said there is no alternative to a political solution, she cited the Special Envoy’s observation that progress will be impossible if there is a military assault. Will the Russian Federation and Iran heed the Special Envoy’s words and discuss how to build on the Astana process to engage seriously in the political process under way?
Ms. HALEY (United States) took the floor again in her national capacity, saying she welcomed the opportunity to discuss prospects for a diplomatic solution. However, she said the Russian Federation and Iran have been using outright lies to distort the conversation. This month alone, the world has seen a clear military escalation in Idlib, with more than 100 air strikes, the targeting of hospitals and other medical facilities, and “double‑tap” attacks on “white helmets”, she noted. Council members heard a lot today, but nothing indicates that the Russian Federation, Iran or [President Bashar Al‑] Assad are interested in a political solution, only the actions of cowards interested in military conquest. The United States is long past taking the Russian Federation and Iran at their word, she declared, adding that the United States strongly opposes any escalation of the violence in Idlib and that every other Council member should feel the same.
By violating the last de‑escalation zone, she continued, the Russian Federation and Iran are not demonstrating a commitment to protect civilian lives, and it is absurd to think the world will pay for reconstruction as the Russian Federation pummels Idlib ahead of a military assault. She stressed that the Assad regime and its enablers will be seen to be serious when the violence stops, the United Nations can deliver humanitarian aid, civilians are allowed to flee, and irreversible progress is made through the United Nations‑led political process, with Iran’s influence in Syria extinguished. Iran must not be allowed to hijack the future of the Syrian people through the Astana process, she said, reiterating that the United States will respond if chemical weapons are used. Underlining that the Russian Federation has the power to stop a catastrophe in Idlib, she warned any assault there will be regarded as a reckless escalation of the conflict, with dire consequences for which the world will hold the Russian Federation and Iran responsible.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor again, said many speakers requested today that his country divulge its plans regarding Idlib. Emphasizing that his delegation would like members of the Coalition to outline their own plans, he said that, instead of sharing that information, Coalition members continue to issue threats. During the Council meeting on 7 September, Western colleagues began to warn that a military operation by Syria would merit the use of force against a sovereign State, he recalled. “Let us be clear; we are not talking about a military operation here, we are talking about a counter‑terrorism operation,” he emphasized, noting that the de‑escalation zones were created only on a temporary basis. On 7 September and again today, he noted, some Western colleagues have tried to separate the Astana parties and “sow disunity between them”. Those efforts will not succeed, he said, adding that the Astana process will forge ahead and lead to tangible results. All the incantations of Western partners about Idlib result not from their concern about civilians, but rather from attempts to keep a major terrorist enclave in Syria intact and to prevent the Government of Syria from restoring full control over its own territory, he stressed.
GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said that the Presidents of Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism. This explicit and clear‑cut message must be heard, he added, emphasizing that, as a victim of chemical weapons, Iran condemns in the strongest possible terms any use of such weapons by anyone, anytime and anywhere. Syria has destroyed all its chemical weapons under international supervision, he said, describing any allegation that its Government is preparing to use chemical weapons as a fabrication and a pretext to use force against that country. Stressing the determination of the Presidents to continue their cooperation to eliminate all terrorists designated as terrorists by the Security Council, including Da’esh and Nusrah Front, he said the conflict in Syria can only end through a negotiated political process, and Iran will play its constructive role in bringing peace and prosperity to that country.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) recalled that the Astana format was created to help in reducing violence across Syria and to give impetus to the political process. The importance of maintaining joint efforts to end the conflict there through a political solution were reconfirmed in Astana meetings. There is no doubt that an all‑out military operation will result in a major humanitarian catastrophe, triggering a massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond, he said. Pointing out that his country already hosts some 3.5 million refugees, and that its capacity exceeded its limits long ago, he said the Syrian regime seeks to legitimize its operation on counter‑terrorism grounds, but a military operation in Idlib will only play into the hands of terrorists. Only a viable ceasefire will create an environment in which to effectively fight terrorism, he emphasized.
Ms. PIERCE (United Kingdom) took the floor again, saying her delegation will support any plan that avoids a full‑scale military operation against Idlib. She called upon Council members to rally behind the only such plan laid out today — the one proposed by the representative of Turkey. However, she expressed concern about statements by some delegates to the effect that restoring full Syrian Government control over the national territory is synonymous with destroying terrorism. Reiterating that Idlib’s civilians will suffer tremendously if a full‑scale military operation is launched, she called for further diplomatic efforts and the exercise of restraint.