Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. The Security Council had sessions both on the Western Sahara and on the situation between Sudan and South Sudan, and I’ll brief you on both, starting with Western Sahara. The Council heard briefings today from SRSG Abdel-Aziz and the Secretary General’s Personal Envoy Chris Ross on the situation in Western Sahara and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO.
SRSG Abdel-Aziz briefed that MINURSO’s area of operation was relatively quiet over the past year, with the exception of deadly clashes in Dakhla in September 2011 and the abduction of three international aid workers who were kidnapped in October 2011 near the Tindouf Camps in Algeria, the first such abduction incident since MINURSO was established. SRSG Abdel-Aziz reported that there was a decrease in overall violations of the military agreement over the course of the year by all parties. He also outlined challenges to MINURSO's operations in implementing its mandate including freedom of movement and free access to interlocutors.
Ambassador Chris Ross updated the Council on the three rounds of informal talks he’s held over the past year which showed the parties’ willingness to continue to meet, to discuss specific subjects of mutual interest, and to take additional steps to implement prior agreements on Confidence Building Measures and to explore new measures. However, Ambassador Ross reported that no progress was made on the core issues of the future status of Western Sahara.
Ambassador Ross reported to the Council that at the conclusion of the most recent talks in March, the parties agreed to meet for two more rounds of informal talks in June and July, and they welcomed his trip to the region in May, which will include an extensive visit for the first time to Western Sahara.
Council members welcomed the efforts of the Personal Envoy to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution and the agreement of the parties to hold additional informal talks this year.
Many Council members also highlighted the need to improve the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps. They noted that Morocco had opened two National Human Rights Commissions in Dakhla and Laayoune, and the continuing commitment of Morocco to ensure access to all Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.
Council members also thanked SRSG Abdel-Aziz for his four years of service as head of MINURSO.
Turning now to Sudan and South Sudan.
The Council held an informal interactive dialogue on the latest developments on the border between Sudan and South Sudan with former president Thabo Mbeki, the AU High Level Implementation Panel Chair, and UN Special Envoy Haile Menkerios. They described a disturbing situation in which both parties are locked in and I quote, “a logic of war.” Mbeki and Menkerios described the divergent views of the two parties on the current situation. They stress that hardliners are winning the day in both Juba and Khartoum and urged the Security Council to engage with both governments directly to convince them to walk back their positions. Council members expressed grave concern over the situation and committed to make every effort to convince the parties to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.
Council members reiterated their demand for a complete, immediate, and unconditional end to all fighting, the withdrawal of the SPLA from Heglig, and an end to Sudanese armed forces aerial bombardments; an end to repeated incidents of cross-border violence and to support, by both sides, to proxies in each other’s country. They also reiterated their demand that Sudan and South Sudan redeploy their security forces immediately from Abyei. Council members discussed ways to leverage the influence of the Council to press the parties to take these steps and included in that a discussion potentially of sanctions.
The Council agreed to continue urgent deliberations on how best to address the situation — happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: Yeah, on Sudan, Ambassador, in the lead up to referendum and afterward towards formal independence there was great fears in the international community there could be a war between the South and Sudan, and it didn’t happen, but it seems like it might be happening now. Could you broadly say why we’ve come to this point now? Why has that peace not held? And on Syria could you update us on your views of the protocol negotiations for monitoring mission.
Ambassador Rice: Well, with respect to Sudan and South Sudan, I think many of us have seen and been concerned about the potential for a resumption of violence, primarily as we discussed today, because of the many unresolved issues in the comprehensive peace agreement. They have no agreement on oil. They have no agreement on their border. They have no agreement on citizenship. They have no agreement on Abyei, and indeed, these were issues that were meant to be resolved before independence. Also, in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the popular consultations and the political process which was to incorporate all of the people of those regions into the larger Sudan were abandoned.
And so all of these factors have remained unresolved, and both sides have taken — both prior to July 9th and subsequent to July 9th — actions designed to test and provoke and undermine the other. And they have escalated into the situation that we see today.
With respect to Syria, we await the report of the Secretary-General to the Council. I don’t want to characterize discussions that may have occurred between the advance party and the government in Syria. I am not privy to those, but certainly the Council is going to await the report that we expect perhaps as early as today, tonight or tomorrow morning. And we will begin to discuss and assess those recommendations. Speaking in my national capacity, I would observe that the situation is not improving, the violence is continuing, the bombardment, particularly in Homs, seems to be increasing, and the conditions that one would want and need to see for the effective deployment of the balance of the monitors are not at present in place.
Reporter: Question on Western Sahara and then one more on Syria. Are you concerned at all about the changes that have been made to the Secretary-General’s report prior to it reaching what I guess is now its final form, and is this, the South African Ambassador said as he was leaving — that he considered it deplorable that this happened. And then on Syria, could you maybe tell us a bit about what’s expected to come out of the friends of Syria meeting that they’ve announced in Washington that Secretary of State Clinton will be attending in Paris tomorrow.
Ambassador Rice: No, I will leave that to the State Department to comment on your later point. With respect to the Secretary-General’s report, that was a point that the Ambassador of South Africa made repeatedly in the session. I think maybe one other delegation echoed that concern. I think most countries including our own were dealing with the report as it came to us in final form and treating its analysis and recommendations on their face. And we as penholder who will have to draft the resolution, have no alternative but to view the report as it came to us, and it will be the basis for the renewal of the mandate.
Reporter: Another one on Syria. Many are saying that the diplomatic overtures, actions by the UN are strengthening Assad’s hand, is this an assessment you agree with? That he’s essentially just, you know, polishing off the opposition and using the latest UN action as a cover.
Ambassador Rice: I’m not going to speak to what Assad’s motivations are, but the UN and the Security Council in the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Annan are not meant to be creating a cover for Assad. Quite the contrary, they are perhaps the best and potentially the last best effort to resolve the situation through peaceful diplomatic means. It may be impossible to do so. It may be that the government’s logic is that it will continue the use of violence despite its repeated commitments as long as it can get away with it. From the US point of view, we have been very clear that we have no illusions — that we are going to assess the government as we have today on the basis of its actions, not its words. We’re very concerned with the resumption and the escalation of violence, particularly the bombardment in Homs and we are by no means limiting our efforts to the good diplomatic work that we are supporting here at the United Nations, but also very much engaged in efforts to strengthen and increase the pressure on Assad and hence the meeting today in Paris on sanctions. We’re also very much interested in supporting the opposition to cohere and coalesce — the peaceful political opposition — and we are providing non-lethal support, primarily medical supplies and communications equipment to that end. So this is from our view a multifaceted effort, but the political process is one that we will support as long as possibly viable.
Reporter: Thanks a lot. The allegation is that the JEM rebels from Darfur are now fighting with the Sudanese Army in Heglig. There are media accounts of them pulling in and hand-slapping and what not. And so, some people think that this means the goal of this is the overthrow of the Bashir regime, and I just wanted to know, was this discussed in the Council? What does the US think of JEM presence in Heglig or fighting alongside the South Sudan Army.
Ambassador Rice: There was discussion in the context of Mbeki’s briefing about the perception in Khartoum, that the South’s objectives are regime change, and he reported indeed that the North has said, if that is the case and they believe it to be so, their objective is now also regime change. I think frankly, one would hope that this is rhetoric and not the objective or the purported objective of either side. Reality is both sides have over time provided support to proxies in each other’s territory. There is little doubt about that. It has continued in both directions and it needs to end as we have said on a national basis and the Council has said on an international basis.