Special Envoy on Syrian Conflict, in Security Council Briefing, Announces Resignation, Vowing to Pursue Political Solution ‘until the Last Hour’

SC/13543
17 October 2018
8373rd Meeting (AM)

Special Envoy on Syrian Conflict, in Security Council Briefing, Announces Resignation, Vowing to Pursue Political Solution ‘until the Last Hour’

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, briefing the Security Council today on efforts to push forward a constitutional committee aimed at ending the eight-year-long conflict in Syria, also announced his decision to step down at the end of November, while vowing to vigorously pursue a balanced, fair and inclusive political solution “until the last hour” of his tenure.

Staffan de Mistura, who has served as Special Envoy since July 2014, outlined major strides achieved in defeating terrorism in Syria, reducing Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh)’s territorial base and – most recently – averting a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib Governorate.  Expressing hope that the window presented by the Idlib agreement will allow for even further progress, he also briefed the 15-member Council on ongoing efforts to draw up a constitutional committee as part of a political solution leading, ultimately, to the conflict’s end.

Announcing that he will step down as Special Envoy in the last week of November, he vowed to dedicate the rest of his service to fully exploring the feasibility of convening the Constitutional Committee.  To that end, his team has listened carefully to all the parties, as well as civil society representatives and others who are not political actors “but still deserve a stake in their future”.  Underlining efforts to seek balance and ensure that no political side will dominate the committee, he said Syrians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds will be represented and a minimum 30 per cent of the committee’s membership will be reserved for women.

“The key parties are the Syrian parties,” he continued, noting that while the political process will be supported by the United Nations and other relevant countries it will fully respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Outlining plans to meet with Government officials in Damascus next week, he also stated his intention to engage with the Astana guarantor countries – Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey – and the “Small Group” countries - France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and the United States.  Expressing hope that the constitutional committee will convene in November, he said it remains unclear if that will be possible.

Following the briefing, many Council members – along with several delegates invited to speak under Rule 37 of the Council’s procedural rules – thanked Mr. De Mistura for his tireless work.  However, speakers diverged sharply on their visions of the constitutional committee process, as well as the origins of, and imperatives for ultimately ending, the bloody and longstanding conflict.

Kuwait’s delegate joined other speakers in emphasizing that Syria currently finds itself at a crossroads.  Two distinct paths have recently emerged:  one a bright, clear road forward - marked by new opportunities for diplomacy and engagement – and another dark and filled with pitfalls and even more violence.  Expressing support for efforts to push forward a fully inclusive constitutional committee process – he called for intensified efforts to sustain the Idlib ceasefire and strict adherence with relevant Council resolutions.  Resolving the conflict requires a political process that fully preserves the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he stressed, calling for intensified diplomatic engagement at the highest levels in the coming days.

The representative of the United Kingdom, hailing the work of the Special Envoy, told him:  “It beggars belief that the Syrian Government cannot work with what you have set out.”  Indeed, she said, such a situation calls into question either the Russian Federation’s good faith in brokering the Sochi deal, or reveals that that country in fact does not hold sway over the Syrian Government.  Appealing to the latter to help move the constitutional process forward, she nevertheless warned that the United Nations “cannot be involved in a charade”.  The constitutional process must be fully legitimate, and all actors must engage in good faith.

The United States representative, also voicing support for moving forward with the constitutional committee, expressed concern over the lack of interest in a peaceful resolution on the part of the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, the Russian Federation and Iran.  The constitutional parley is being stalled by the same delaying tactics that have kept the conflict going for years, he stressed, warning that “delay risks disaster”.  In that regard, he urged all actors to support this historic opportunity.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, emphasized that the Sochi agreement is largely being fulfilled, with hundreds of fighters exiting the demilitarized zone in Idlib.  Noting that his delegation remains engaged in the situation in Syria at the explicit request of its Government, he asked the representative of the United States to explain his country’s presence there, adding that fighting terrorism is only a pretext for United States engagement.  Meanwhile, he warned against setting artificial deadlines in convening the constitutional committee without fully considering the interests of the parties or the context on the ground.

Syria’s representative said the illegal force led by the United States has again demonstrated its alignment with terrorist groups by attacking civilians in Syria, including women and children, this time with white phosphorus bombs.  Such crimes must be investigated, and the United Nations must prevent these forces from undermining the sovereignty of the country, he stressed, adding that Syria is fully implementing the outcomes of the Astana and Sochi meetings.  In that context, the Government supports a review of its current Constitution - with participants determined by Syrians and without foreign interference – but not speculation on a new constitution, which would only lead to a political vacuum.

Iran’s delegate stressed that the creation of a constitutional committee should be carried out in line with the understandings reached between the Astana guarantors and the Special Envoy.  The current proposal on that front requires further examination and adjustment, he said, warning against exerting political pressure, setting artificial deadlines or deviating from the understandings reached.  “No success can be achieved, and no progress can be made through hasty decisions, ignoring the realities on the ground, or political miscalculation,” he stressed, adding that the United States must end its occupation of Syrian territory and its support to terrorist groups.

The representative of Saudi Arabia expressed regret that the Special Envoy has not yet been able to achieve a political resolution in Syria due to the Assad regime’s obstinacy and procrastination.  Rejecting interventions by the Iranian regime - as well as the genocide and mass murder presently being conducted against the Syrian people - he said Iran should immediately pull its militias out of Syria and leave the country for its own people.  Meanwhile, he said, the international community must “save what it can save” and attempt to rescue Syria from the effects of the Assad regime’s immoral behaviour.

Germany’s delegate, also speaking under Rule 37 as a member of the “Small Group” on Syria, called on the Russian Federation and Iran, as Astana guarantors alongside Turkey, to ensure that the Idlib ceasefire is fully respected by all parties, including the Syrian regime.  Now is the time to start working towards an inclusive, credible and sustainable political solution, he said.  Echoing concerns raised by several other speakers, he said the return of refugees to Syria must begin only when conditions are ripe, and reconstruction efforts can only be discussed when clear progress is seen in Syria’s political process.  “We will not invest in war and corruption,” he stressed, adding:  “We will not build on shifting sands.”

Also speaking were representatives of France, China, Peru, Poland, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Sweden, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Bolivia, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.

The meeting began at 9:31 a.m. and ended at 12:28 p.m.

Briefing

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, recounted his efforts to help convene a credible, balanced, Syrian-owned constitutional committee to end the crisis in that country.  While the composition of the 50 opposition names listed was not controversial, he said, a so-called “middle list” – made up, per the Sochi process outcome, of various Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women - has still not yet been approved.

Noting that his team listened carefully to all parties and also did its own homework, he said it listened to lessons learned from other peace processes and engaged in dialogue with civil society representatives and others, who are not political actors “but still deserve a stake in their future”.  “We sought a fair balance” in order to ensure that no political side will dominate the committee, he said, underlining the importance of ensuring the adequate representation of Syrians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as those living outside the country due to the conflict.  Meanwhile, a minimum 30 per cent of the committee will be made up of women.

Noting that he also plans to prepare a basic set of rules that will allow the constitutional committee to function properly, he said that process may include the establishment of a smaller committee to help drive it forward.  Within the context of the Geneva process, constitutional reform could serve to enshrine the letter and spirit of the 12 principles developed in Geneva, and endorsed in Sochi, in that document.  Those processes will be supported by the United Nations and move forward in full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.  “The key parties are the Syrian parties,” he stressed, adding that strong support from other relevant countries is also crucial.

Recalling his recent meeting with the Foreign Minister of Syria, he said the latter cast doubt on the Sochi outcome, calling for a fundamental reassessment of the middle third list.  The Russian Federation and Iran have also called the middle third concept into question, he said, noting that they are nevertheless continuing to engage with the Syrian Government.  Turkey, which initially felt the list could benefit from revision, has now indicated its willingness to move forward, as has the Syrian opposition.  Meanwhile, the “Small Group” countries – France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and the United States – have also indicated their support.

Announcing that the Government of Syria invited him to Damascus next week, he outlined his intention to engage with those officials on plans to convene the constitutional committee.  He also intends to invite the Astana guarantors to engage with him in Geneva before the end of the month, as well as to meet with the Small Group countries.  He hoped to be able to convene the constitutional committee in November.  While it remains unclear if that will be possible, he expressed hope that significant progress will be made and pledged to come before the Council to brief members on all relevant developments as soon as possible.

Turning to “the big picture” in Syria, he said major strides have been made in defeating terrorism in Syria, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh)’s territorial base has been largely reduced and a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib Governorate was averted.  Warning against allowing a “de facto soft partition” or a “theatre for new international confrontation” to take hold in the country, he said the United Nations has done all it can and more.  He hoped the window presented by the Idlib memorandum of understanding will allow for even further progress.

Finally, he told Council members that he plans to step down as Special Envoy as of the last week of November for personal reasons.  Recalling that he has served in the role for four years, he said “a month can be a century in politics” and pledged not to lay down the charge in Syria “until the last hour” of his service.  Moreover, he vowed to dedicate his last month of service to fully exploring the feasibility of convening a constitutional committee, allowing his successor to begin his or her work from a fully clean slate.

Statements

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) urged all stakeholders to take the current opportunity to bring about a negotiated end to the crisis in Syria through supporting the Special Envoy’s effort to convene a constitutional committee.  Affirming that his country had worked hard for such a result, he expressed concern over the lack of interest in a peaceful resolution on the part of the Assad regime, the Russian Federation and Iran.  The constitutional parley is being stalled by the same delaying tactics that have kept the conflict going for years, he asserted.  The objection to the lists of names is troubling in that context.  The Syrians even say, he added, that they reject the Sochi agreement.  If the committee is delayed there will be no progress on all elements of a political solution and the opportunity for it could well evaporate, he warned, stating, “Delay risks disaster”.  The Special Envoy is ready with all elements and he should move forward without delay.  Millions of lives in Idlib and elsewhere are still at risk.  Recalling Council support for a nationwide ceasefire, he reiterated that any escalation is unacceptable.  He urged all actors to resist further delays and support this historic opportunity.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that Syria is at a crossroads that could go toward a massive battle in Idlib or towards a negotiated peace.  It was a collective responsibility, therefore, to take up this small window of opportunity and unite to choose the option of peace through convening the constitutional committee as soon as possible.  There are immense difficulties, but the constitutional committee presents the first step in a hopeful process.   Unfortunately, many months after the Sochi agreement the forum had not yet met due to the stalling of the Syrian Government, while its allies were not willing or able to put an end to its intransigence.  The Special Envoys efforts must be strongly supported, and a clear timetable put in place to end the delaying of manoeuvres.  He stressed that the committee must be balanced in composition and not burdened with rules that impede its effectiveness.  Steps to an inclusive election and a conducive environment in Syria for it should proceed after the convening of the committee.  It is also crucial to closely follow the ceasefire in Idlib and ensure protection of civilians, with civilian aid rendered in non-discriminatory ways.  Emphasizing that breaking the cycle of violence is essential to creating the space for a true political process, he cautioned that if this opportunity is not taken up, the crisis will be set back immeasurably.  He therefore called on all actors to strongly support the convening of the committee.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), thanking Mr. De Mistura for working on one of the United Nations’ most difficult portfolios for more than four years, nevertheless recalled that the gruesome war has been continuing for more than seven.  Expressing concern that the Idlib agreement will not hold, she asked all parties to do everything in their power to preserve that peace and to ensure the full, unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria.  The Idlib agreement represents not only the potential salvation of 3 million civilians, she said, but also a possible window for the country’s overall peace process.  “It beggars belief that the Syrian Government cannot work with what you have set out,” she told Mr. De Mistura, stressing that such a situation calls into question either the Russian Federation’s good faith in brokering the Sochi deal, or reveals that that country in fact does not hold sway over the Syrian Government.  Appealing to the latter to help move the constitutional process forward, she nevertheless warned that the United Nations “cannot be involved in a charade”.  Indeed, the constitutional process must be fully legitimate, and all actors must engage in good faith.  Noting that Syria’s reconstruction will require support from Western nations, she said the United Kingdom will not provide such funds absent a fair, inclusive and legitimate political process.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said two distinct paths have recently emerged in Syria.  One is a bright, clear road forward, marked by new opportunities for diplomacy and engagement, while the other is a dark one filled with pitfalls and even more violence.  Expressing support for efforts to push forward a fully inclusive constitutional committee process - as well as eventually launching Syrian elections in line with the highest international standards of democracy and transparency – he recalled that a month ago the country stood at the brink of a massive humanitarian crisis in Idlib governorate.  The Council, which now focuses largely on preventive efforts, supported various de-escalation efforts and helped the parties avoid “what we all feared”.  Calling for intensified efforts to sustain the Idlib ceasefire and for strict adherence with relevant Council resolutions, he stressed that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Syria.  Instead, a political process that fully preserves the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be pursued, he said, calling for intensified diplomatic engagement at the highest levels in the coming days.

MA ZHAOXU (China), noting a positive momentum in the situation in Syria due to Idlib agreement, expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Russian Federation and Turkey in that regard.  He expressed hope that the ceasefire will be maintained and provide momentum for the creation of the constitutional committee.  At the same time, he said, the international community must prevent the resurgence of terrorism by cutting off supply chains.  Formation of an inclusive constitutional committee is now critical to reinvigorate the political process.  Calling on all actors to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and support the creation of an environment for political progress, he added that the international community should support a solution that meets the concerns of all parties.  His country is ready to join hands with the rest of the international community to promote a peaceful solution and ameliorate the humanitarian situation.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), welcoming the agreement for a ceasefire in Idlib, said that efforts there should be guided by humanitarian law and the need to respect the sovereignty of Syria.  The agreement, he hoped, would lead to political progress in the form of a convening of a constitutional committee.  He called for a date to be set for the committee’s work to begin.  The convening of the committee should then be followed by an inclusive political process that encompasses the safe return of displaced persons and the prosecution of those who committed grave crimes.  He called for the Astana guarantors of the ceasefire to do all they can to prevent any escalation in the country.  Commending the work of the Special Envoy, he said he is saddened by his departure.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), welcoming the agreement on Idlib, affirmed the responsibility of the Astana guarantors to implement it and ensure the safety of civilians.  She supported the efforts of the Special Envoy to convene the constitutional committee, which, she stressed, should be swiftly followed by other steps to bring about a political solution in accordance with Security Council resolutions.  Only a real, tangible and inclusive process, starting with a truly representative constitutional committee, could bring that about, she emphasized.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) called on all parties in Syria to cooperate in implementing the Idlib agreement and ensure safe, unimpeded and direct humanitarian access.  He also stressed the need to forge a durable political solution in line with Council resolution 2254 (2016).  Thanks to recent developments, Kazakhstan estimates that the situation in Syria is calmer than before, but humanitarian needs remain substantial, he said, appealing to Member States to come forward in response.  Commending the Special Envoy’s attempts to involve different States in the Middle East, the Gulf region and Europe in the peace process, he said an innovative regional paradigm is needed to support the Geneva and Astana processes.  He emphasized, however, that it is the Syrians themselves who should begin to shape Syria’s future political system.  “We believe that the Syrian people are capable of determining their own future,” he said, adding that their aspirations for democracy, reconstruction and stability will require genuine international support.

KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) stated that the constitutional committee should convene as soon as possible as part of the broader United Nations-led political process based on Council resolution 2254 (2016).  “One can only speak of a credible political process when the constitutional committee itself is credible,” he said, expressing support for the Special Envoy’s commitment for women to make up 30 per cent of that entity.  On Idlib, he said de-escalation must be sustained alongside unimpeded and unconditional humanitarian access.  The Russian Federation must ensure that the Government facilitates United Nations humanitarian access, which remains constrained in Government-controlled areas.  He disagreed with premature calls for reconstruction aid and the return of refugees.  Despite positive developments in Idlib, “we have to be realistic – the situation can change rapidly”.  The international community should not normalize relations with the Government, which is credibly suspected of perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said, calling for accountability for those crimes.  He went on to express concern over the Government’s recent amnesty law, saying it does not apply to opposition fighters or provide from exemption for military service.  Little has meanwhile been done to secure the release of those unlawfully held in detention, or to reveal the fate of the missing, or to prevent further forced disappearances and detentions, he said.  That issue must be properly addressed as part of the United Nations-led process in Geneva.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), welcoming the agreement reached by Turkey and the Russian Federation on a ceasefire in Idlib, said he is now looking for the Astana guarantors to live up to their commitments, as well as obligations under international law, and to safeguard the last remaining de-escalation zone in the country until a peaceful settlement can be reached.  The opportunity presented by the ceasefire to reinvigorate the United Nations-led political process must be seized through the establishment of a constitutional committee as quickly as possible, she emphasized, affirming full support to the Special Envoy to decide on its composition, procedures and time frame.  It is critical that the Committee represent the full ethnic, religious and geographical diversity of Syria, with adequate representation of women.  She called on all Syrian parties, members of the Council and other relevant actors to move from words to action to actively support the efforts of the Special Envoy.  The Syrian people have endured unspeakable suffering for too long.

DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia), affirming full support for the efforts of the Special Envoy, recognized measures being taken to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib but expressed concern over the challenges to operationalizing the agreements.  Expressing appreciation to the efforts of Turkey and the Russian Federation in that context, he called on all stakeholders to support implementation of the zone agreement and further coordination to fight terrorism.  The agreement on Idlib, he said, should be taken as a window of opportunity to reinvigorate the political process by the formation of a constitutional committee that is truly inclusive and Syrian-owned.  All actors should fully support the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard.  He called on the Syrian parties in particular to constructively engage with the Special Envoy on convening the committee as quickly as possible.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), welcoming the agreement on Idlib, expressed hope that it will provide impetus for progress in the political process to end the violence in Syria.  In that context, he fully supported the efforts of the Special Envoy.  He encouraged all Syrian parties to prioritize dialogue to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict and to pursue accountability for crimes committed.  He called on all actors in the international community to provide strong support to beginning a process to end a crisis that has gone on far too long.

NARCISO SIPACO RIBALA (Equatorial Guinea) said the Council and the international community must listen often and closely to those directly involved in Syria’s longstanding conflict.  Welcoming the agreement reached to avoid the potential large-scale military operation in Idlib, he said the most difficult task remains convincing Jihadist groups to permanently leave the area.  All parties to the Sochi agreement must continue to uphold it and refrain from armed provocation, he said, stressing that the demilitarization of Idlib changed the tone of the conflict, rendering it less military in nature and more political.  In that context, he urged the parties to promptly create an intra-Syrian constitutional committee guided by the Special Envoy, with due attention paid to the quality of its composition and strong efforts to prevent external forces from imposing their agendas on its work.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said Syrians require international support in returning to their country and rebuilding it.  Emphasizing that ordinary citizens remain affected by sanctions, he said the outcomes of so-called “Small Group” country meetings remain secret and urged them to act more transparently.  Noting that some partners seem to be unhappy with all the positive progress made recently, he said the Sochi memorandum of understanding is, in general, being fulfilled.  Hundreds of fighters have left the demilitarized zone.  Responding to a question from the United States delegate about his country’s involvement in Syria, he declared:  “The Russian Federation is in Syria at the invitation of its Government.”  Asking, in return, why the United States found itself in Syria and what its motives are, he said fighting terrorism is only a pretext for that country’s engagement.  Warning of reports of phosphorous-containing weapons and the continued activities of such “sham-rescuers” as the White Helmets, he also cautioned against setting artificial deadlines in convening the constitutional committee without fully considering the interests of the parties or the context on the ground.  “We need to be patient, respect the partners” and not make demands “that only suit you”, he stressed.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the fact that the Idlib agreement remains in force.  However, all efforts to combat terrorism must continue to be conducted in full respect for international law.  There is no military option to end the war in Syria, he said, warning against any efforts to stoke sectarianism among the country’s people.  Expressing support for the Sochi agreement, he also underscored the importance of fully respecting the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria and its population.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the illegal force led by the United States has again shown that it is aligned with terrorist groups by attacking civilians in Syria, including women and children, this time with white phosphorus bombs.  Such crimes must be investigated, and the United Nations must prevent these forces from undermining the sovereignty of the country.  He maintained, in addition, that the plans of different countries that are meeting on Syria similarly support terrorism under a political cover.  The Government does not recognize the legitimacy of any groups that it is not included in, he said, noting that after the progress in Astana and Sochi, which the Syrian Government participated in, the so-called “small group” of countries tried to halt the process set in motion.  He asked how a group that includes countries that support terrorism in Syria support a peaceful solution.

Quoting the United Nations Charter on non-intervention in States’ internal affairs, as well as Council resolutions on the need for a Syrian solution to the crisis, he said that his country continues to implement the results of Astana and Sochi.  In that context, it supports a review of the current Constitution, with participants determined by Syrians, without foreign interference, not speculation on a new constitution, which would only leave a political vacuum.  The Idlib agreement, he added, is time-bound and requires the departure of foreign forces from the area.  His country had never interfered in the internal affairs of any Member State and is cooperating with the international community.  It is also reopening borders with its neighbours.  He called for an end of support for the “heinous terrorist war” and warned that those who support it will not achieve through political action what they cannot achieve through war.

SIMA SAMI I. BAHOUS (Jordan), affirming support to the Special Envoy, called for redoubling of efforts to bring about a political settlement to the Syrian crisis that preserve the unity of the country and is acceptable to all parties.  Jordan continues its humanitarian aid to its Syrian brothers and sisters and supports a return to the Geneva process.  She hoped that the reopening of border crossings will allow refugees to return to their homes, 1.3 million of whom are being hosted by Jordan at a cost of over $10 billion.  As the refugee crisis is an international problem, it requires full international responsibility.  A priority must be to create a propitious atmosphere for their return.  More effort is required from the international community to support the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard.

MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt), affirming the need for a political resolution of the Syrian conflict that meets the needs of all Syrians, said his country has exerted great efforts to support moderate parties in Syria, to support truce agreements and to work for humanitarian access throughout the country despite the polarization of the Security Council.  His country has also worked to counter terrorism in Syria, which is due to the international community’s failure to set aside differences and formulate a united approach against the menace.  It is important now to prevent terrorist organizations from spreading from Syria to the rest of the region.  In Syria itself, an inclusive political solution is needed that conforms to Security Council resolutions.  In that context, it is unacceptable that the process has stalled since the Sochi agreements.  The Special Envoy should exercise his political prerogative and convene the constitutional committee as soon as possible, using the lists that have been compiled.  Egypt stands ready to provide all support needed to its sister country in the coming days to guarantee the territorial integrity of Syria and the safety of its people.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) expressed regret that the Special Envoy has not yet been able to achieve a political resolution in Syria due to the Assad regime’s obstinacy and procrastination.  Noting that Saudi Arabia participates in the work of the “Small Group” of States, he expressed support for the prompt convening of a constitutional committee over the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, all parties must refrain from creating any obstacles to such political process.  Expressing concern over the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, he noted that Saudi Arabia has long provided all forms of support, including by hosting more than 2 million Syrians and providing them with quality services such as access to higher education.  Saudi Arabia is also working with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other countries of the region to provide all possible support to the Syrian people and support a peaceful solution.  Rejecting interventions by the Iranian regime – as well as the genocide and mass murder presently being conducted against the Syrian people – he said Iran should immediately pull its militias out of Syria and leave the country for its own people.  For its part, he said, the international community must “save what it can save” and attempt to rescue Syria from the effects of the Assad regime’s immoral behaviour.  Among other things, he said, that regime allowed Iran – the region’s biggest sponsor of terrorism – onto its territory.

ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) stressed that, in line with the Idlib de-escalation zone agreement, all foreign terrorist fighters must return to their countries of origin and terrorists of Syrian origin must be handled according to Syrian law.  Regarding the armed opposition, he said that all States with influence over such groups must encourage them to end the fighting and join the political process.  On the creation of a constitutional committee, he said the process should be carried out in line with the understandings reached between the Astana guarantors and the Special Envoy, and that the proposal submitted on that front requires further examination and adjustment.  He also warned against exerting political pressure, setting artificial deadlines or deviating from the understandings reached.  “No success can be achieved and no progress can be made through hasty decisions, ignoring the realities on the ground, or political miscalculation,” he stressed.  Responding to the allegations made by the United States delegate, he said they only reflect that country’s failures in Syria.  The United States must end its occupation of Syrian territory and its support to terrorist groups.  To the representative of Saudi Arabia, he said that delegation regrettably continues to misuse United Nations meetings to attack Iran.  Saudi Arabia has a destructive role in the region – as witnessed once again in the events over recent days – and continues to nurture, fund and arm terrorists across the Middle East, he said.

FERIDUN H. SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) outlined recent progress made in implementing the memorandum of understanding on Idlib province.  “Thanks to the Memorandum, further bloodshed and a humanitarian tragedy in Idlib have been averted,” he said, noting that tens of thousands of Syrians have begun to return to their homes there as a result.  In addition, the Idlib agreement also proved that such a situation could be addressed through effective diplomacy.  The priority now is to seize that momentum to advance the overall political process.  In that regard, he voiced strong support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to establish the constitutional committee as soon as possible and pledged to continue working closely with him and the other Astana guarantors to that end.  Emphasizing that the committee will require a credible, inclusive and balanced structure, he warned that any attempt to design a political system for Syria without Syrian ownership could lack legitimacy and prove detrimental to the peace process.  Calling on the Security Council and the international community to support the peace process, he said Turkey has proposed to host a quadrilateral summit with the participation of France, Germany and the Russian Federation in an effort to find new areas of convergence and reach a sustainable political solution.

JÜRGEN SCHULZ (Germany), speaking as a member of the Small Group on Syria, called on the Russian Federation and Iran, as Astana guarantors alongside Turkey, to ensure that the Idlib ceasefire is fully respected by all parties, including the Syrian regime.  Those two countries are expected to guarantee the protection of civilians and infrastructure, as well as safe and unhindered humanitarian access.  On the political process, he said now is the time to start working towards an inclusive, credible and sustainable political solution in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  The Russian Federation, Iran and the Syrian regime must live up to their Sochi commitments and respect the Special Envoy’s prerogative to select the independent members of the constitutional committee.  “There will be no international legitimacy if the United Nations role is undermined,” he said.  On refugees, he said Germany supports their return to Syria, but only when conditions are ripe, with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) playing a facilitating role.  He added that reconstruction can only be discussed when there is clear progress in the political process.  “We will not invest in war and corruption,” he added.  “We will not build on shifting sands.”

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) objected to Saudi Arabia’s call for a new constitution for his country, given that Saudi Arabia had no constitution or parliament itself.  He maintained that any country that kidnaps the Head of another State, makes a journalist disappear and supports terrorism has no moral standing to speak in political and humanitarian matters in other countries.

Mr. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) called the statement by the Syrian representative nonsense, saying that he speaks of the disappearance of one journalist while he ignores the tens of thousands who have disappeared in his own country and blames Saudi Arabia for everything in the world but takes no responsibility for opening his own country up to the terrorist threat.  The statement, therefore, has no credibility in this context.

Ms. PIERCE (United Kingdom), taking the floor again, welcomed the fact that the Council is able to hear from non-member countries under its Rule 37.  However, those invited to speak under that rule must stick to the agenda item.  “The situation in Syria is dire enough,” she said, expressing regret that some speakers today used Rule 37 to advocate for their national agendas.  Indeed, the crisis in Syria requires the Council’s full attention, and its members do not need lectures from the two countries that have done more than any others to exacerbate that situation.  She expressed hope that, in the future, speakers under Rule 37 will adhere to the agenda at hand.

Mr. COHEN (United States), fully associating himself with the position expressed by the United Kingdom’s delegate regarding Rule 37, said some of today’s statements were outrageous - especially when delivered on behalf of a regime that used chemical weapons against its own people.

Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) agreed that Rule 37 is an important tool but said its purpose – to give affected countries the right to provide their perspective on the situation at hand – must be respected.  Attempts to do otherwise constitute a lack of respect, he said, noting that the representative of Syria did not deviate from the agenda item in his statement.  Rather, perhaps some of what he said was displeasing to Council members.  “The truth hurts,” he stressed, emphasizing that countries should listen more closely to the Syrian delegate about events taking place in his own country.

Mr. LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Security Council President, said he agrees that all representatives should keep their remarks within the agenda item in hand, but recognizes that this does not always occur.  In any case, his country’s presidency recognizes all States as being on the same footing and will not cut off anyone’s statement because of any perceived difference in status, he stressed.

For information media. Not an official record.