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On Syria Aid, US Power's Press Elements Have Personal Notes, Evolving Form

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 21 -- The UN Security Council received its monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and a final briefing from outgoing High Commission for Refugees Antonio Guterres, on December 21 then held closed door consultations.

Afterward US Ambassador Samantha Power, the President of the Security Council for December, came to the stakeout and took four questions (one on Syria, two on Yemen and one, we're glad to say, on Burundi). But before questions, Power delivered what seemed to be hybrid Elements to the Power.

  The Security Council uses this form, less than a Press Statement, to agree to summaries of its meetings. Usually a Council president reads out the elements, then sometimes says “In my national capacity, let me add.” On December 21, it was unclear at least to some where the Elements to the Press ended and national capacity began. Power said for example:

“Members noted their support for the new draft resolution on humanitarian assistance to Syria which includes a renewal of the authority of resolution 2165 for using routes across conflict lines and specific border crossings to deliver aid to those in need throughout Syria. We expect to adopt this resolution tomorrow. The Council agreed on this resolution with good reason. The authorities in 2165 have proven to be effective tools in aid delivery across border into Syria. However, the Council also noted that getting aid to areas in need remains a dire challenge and we call for more expeditious and positive responses from the Syrian government on granting permission to access all areas where there is a need for assistance.

  “I just want to note that a huge percentage of the request that the UN files to cross into particular areas inside Syria are either rejected or totally ignored by the Syrian government.

  “Finally, as long as indiscriminate attacks continue it will be difficult to get Syrians the help they need, and Council members – many Council members – condemned these continued air attacks, especially those against medical facilities.

“Speaking in my national capacity, I underscored today that the United States remains committed to helping Syrians in need, while also pursuing a political solution that will finally give displaced Syrians the chance to go home and will offer some relief to those who are living a daily nightmare.”

  The paragraph beginning “I just want to note” took place seemingly within the Elements to the Press. Was this part of the agreed elements? Things were further confused when a questioner asked for Power's view in her “personal” capacity. Periscope video here. We may have more on this.

Now from the US transcript:

Scribe: Can you personally address this issue of how you feel personally about the humanitarian situation in Syria?
Ambassador Power: Let me speak first to the ceasefire question – I mean, we think the UN has been given now, with the full weight of the international community, a really important role in crafting, implementing, and potentially monitoring a nationwide ceasefire. And as you know, Staffan de Mistura and his team will have to report back within 30 days about the modalities for that.
Meanwhile, he’s also in the process of trying to convene the delegations – a government delegation with an opposition delegation. The opposition delegation, we understand, will include some from the “high negotiating committee,” or those appointed by the “high negotiating committee” and others. So de Mistura is looking at the broadest possible spectrum, including women who were singled out in the resolution on Friday as well. So a lot of work has to be done.
The conflict is raging on the ground. And so I think that’s a really important fact both to inject a sober reality check here at the UN, to spur very energetically these efforts to get this political process going, which has a timeline attached to it now to try to produce inclusive, non-sectarian governance within six months – some kind of transitional governance structure.
So nothing should focus the mind like what you hear in a humanitarian briefing on Syria – when you hear that less than one percent of people living in besieged areas have been reached in the previous three months. When you hear about people who are minding their own business at a market desperate to get their families food, probably at exorbitant prices – and Lord knows how anybody even has access to resources to shop at markets – and then those markets are bombed, on a December Sunday just before the holiday exacting just a huge toll again for civilians in Syria. And that is a daily occurrence. It feels like every day there’s a report of a hospital hit, a school, a community center, or a market.
So I think it was really striking in the Council discussion today this desire to see momentum, this sense that there is momentum because Friday’s resolution is important and it is the international community coming together, but seeing all of the trend lines on the humanitarian front either stagnant or going in the wrong direction. Because the air strikes have not only killed civilians, they’ve also interfered with humanitarian operations in the northern part of the country. So now fewer people are getting assistance today, particularly in the northern part of Syria. More NGOs have suspended their operations today than was the case three months ago and that’s at the time where we’re actually managing to come together on the political track.
So these efforts have to come together because if the humanitarian toll continues to be as devastating as it is, that is going to undermine confidence in any political track. So hopefully one of the other things that the UN will be coming up with are these confidence-building measures. And one of the things we discussed in there is the extent to which these areas of horrible violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, whether less suffering and more restraint and, for instance – things like prisoner releases and protection of hospitals and making sure medical clinics and so forth are not hit – those would be the kind of steps that would potentially lead people to invest more faith in the political process and, as Guterres said, also lead them not to feel as if the only way for them to secure a future for themselves and their families is to get on a boat that some smuggler, who doesn’t care at all about the welfare of civilians, has arranged only to profit himself.
There has to be hope and for hope, you have to have both a political process and people’s lives have to improve and they have to stop living in this terror-laden environment that regime airstrikes and terrorist groups on the ground and now air strikes from other countries are contributing to.

On December 17, finance ministers spoke in the UN Security Council about cutting off financing for ISIS. French finance minister Michel Sapin spoke darkly of the use of pre-paid cards for the November 13 Paris attacks; Russia's Ambassador Churkin named two Turkish companies as involved in ISIS oil sale.

  Inner City Press asked Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, who came to take questions at the Council stakeout, about ISIS' oil. He named Turkey, then want on to name Qatar and Saudi Arabia, slamming its “Sunni coalition” recently announced.

  When US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, along with Sapin and the UK's George Osborne held a short press conference in the UN briefing room, Inner City Press hoped to asked Sapin about pre-paid cards, and Lew and Osborne about Bitcoin. But the question, just four, were limited to Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York and Financial Times. So it goes.

   It seems there will be no Press access at the New York Palace; Ja'afari has said he will speak, at the UN, and whatever ISSG press availability there is should be at the UN, with a 3 pm meeting on December 18 scheduled. Watch this site.

Back on December 8, Inner City Press put thee questions to  Turkey's Ambassador Cevic. Video here.   Here's fast transcript by

Inner City Press: On Syria, do you think the Vienna process meeting should take place in New York on the 18th? Are you satisfied with the Saudi process for choosing the opposition?

Amb Cevik: The plans, I don’t know how fixed, I mean how clear it is, but we are making our preparations for the meeting.

Inner City Press: Are there any groups invited to Saudi Arabia that you think shouldn’t be part of the opposition delegation?

Amb Cevik: I think so far, in our view, they are working on the right concept. Let’s see if they succeed. Having a coalition group that would be able to take part in the process is one of the most important things.
Inner City Press: [Russia] said the group that killed their pilot should be put on the terror list. Do you have any view on that?

Amb Cevik: If they know the specifics, I don’t know. But to our knowledge, there was no terrorist organization, no extreme Daesh, Nusra, in that area. They are the Turkomens, and we know them, they are moderate people.

  This may be an issue. Watch this site.

On Syria after coy comments by the UN's Ban Ki-moon if the next meeting would be in New York, John Kerry in Washington at the Saban Forum in Washington on December 5 said:

"the governments involved are going to meet later in this month in New York in order to continue to move this process forward.  Our goal is to facilitate a transition that all parties have stated that they support: a unified Syria...The purpose of this transition will be to establish a credible, inclusive governance within six months.  The process would include the drafting of a new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised elections within 18 months...Meanwhile, a nationwide ceasefire will go into effect between the government and the responsible opposition, assuming they come to the table and they begin this initial process."

  But who is this "responsible opposition"? Does it include Al Qaeda affiliates? Can last-minute mergers cleanse these groups? Watch this site.

 Back on November 14 in the shadow of the November 13 Paris attacks, the International Syria Support Group met and issued a statement in Vienna, follow by statements by US John Kerry, Russia's Sergey Lavrov and the UN's Staffan de Mistura, flashing his pince-nez and the highlighted document below.

  But what will happen when a group said to be linked to Al Nusra is hit by an airstrike, and the Free Syrian Army says it's them, not Nusra?

Meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015 as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States to discuss how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict.  The participants began with a moment of silence for the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris and the recent attacks in Beirut, Iraq, Ankara, and Egypt.  The members unanimously condemned in the strongest terms these brutal attacks against innocent civilians and stood with the people of France.

Subsequently, the participants engaged in a constructive dialogue to build upon the progress made in the October 30 gathering. The members of the ISSG expressed a unanimous sense of urgency to end the suffering of the Syrian people, the physical destruction of Syria, the destabilization of the region, and the resulting increase in terrorists drawn to the fighting in Syria.

The ISSG acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, and that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously.  They stated their commitment to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communique in its entirety.  The group reached a common understanding on several key issues.
The group agreed to support and work to implement a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards the transition under UN auspices on the basis of the Geneva Communique.  The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council pledged to support a UNSC resolution to empower a UN-endorsed ceasefire monitoring mission in those parts of the country where monitors would not come under threat of attacks from terrorists, and to support a political transition process in accordance with the Geneva Communique.   
All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence.  The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist.
The participants welcomed UN Secretary General Ban’s statement that he has ordered the UN to accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire.  The group agreed that the UN should lead the effort, in consultation with interested parties, to determine the requirements and modalities of a ceasefire.  
The ISSG expressed willingness to take immediate steps to encourage confidence-building measures that would contribute to the viability of the political process and to pave the way for the nationwide ceasefire.  In this context, and pursuant to clause 5 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG discussed the need to take steps to ensure expeditious humanitarian access throughout the territory of Syria pursuant to UNSCR 2165 and called for the granting of the UN’s pending requests for humanitarian deliveries.   The ISSG expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries.  The resolution of the refugee issue is important to the final settlement of the Syrian conflict.  The ISSG also reaffirmed the devastating effects of the use of indiscriminate weapons on the civilian population and humanitarian access, as stated in UNSCR 2139.  The ISSG agreed to press the parties to end immediately any use of such indiscriminate weapons.
The ISSG reaffirmed the importance of abiding by all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 2199 on stopping the illegal trade in oil, antiquities and hostages, from which terrorists benefit.
Pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, incorporated by reference in the Vienna statement of October 30, and in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118, the ISSG agreed on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices, as soon as possible, with a target date of January 1.  The group welcomed efforts, working with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and others, to bring together the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition, chosen by Syrians, who will decide their negotiating representatives and define their negotiating positions, so as to enable the political process to begin.  All the parties to the political process should adhere to the guiding principles identified at the October 30 meeting, including a commitment to Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character; to ensuring that State institutions remain intact; and to protecting the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination.   ISSG members agreed that these principles are fundamental.
The ISSG members reaffirmed their support for the transition process contained in the 2012 Geneva Communique.  In this respect they affirmed their support for a ceasefire as described above and for a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.  Free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months. These elections must be administered under UN supervision to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.   
Regarding the fight against terrorism, and pursuant to clause 6 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG reiterated that Da’esh, Nusra, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants and endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be defeated.  The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan agreed to help develop among intelligence and military community representatives a common understanding of groups and individuals for possible determination as terrorists, with a target of completion by the beginning of the political process under UN auspices.
The participants expect to meet in approximately one month in order to review progress towards implementation of a ceasefire and the beginning of the political process.

When the Chair of the UN's Syria Commission of Inquiry Paulo Sergio Pinheiro took questions after a closed door meeting with the Security Council, Inner City Press asked him about airstrikes in Syria, particularly by members of the Council. Periscope video here.

   Pinheiro replied that, not having been to Syria (except once as an individual, he told Inner City Press afterward, second Periscope here), he could not determine the facts of the airstrikes. But he said he had urged the Council members involved to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Here fast transcription by

Inner City Press: For the 2 commissioners: with the increasing airstrikes by many parties now inside Syria, how is the commission able to collect, are you able to collect information about the airstrikes that occur and to figure out who’s doing what? And did you have any guidance to, there’s some members of the Security Council who are involved in these strikes, in terms of how to conduct them or how to coordinate more? I’d just like to know how you’re dealing with this new change.

Pinheiro: As you know, we investigate violations of human rights law and breaches of international and humanitarian law from – by all warring parties, by government, by the armed groups, by the terrorist groups... Yes, we had said this to the Security Council in the formal meeting, that we have received delegations about casualties, about results of those airstrikes that you have mentioned. But at this point, we are not in a position to attribute what was the responsible, the member state responsible for this airstrikes. We hope by March when, or in February when we release our report, to be in a better position to elaborate on that. What we have done, it was what we said at the human rights council, that our roles is to remind member states involved in these airstrikes the necessity of respecting the protection of the civilian population in terms of human rights and humanitarian law.

   It was said the Commission would share information with countries -- or rather, prosecutors or courts -- looking into their own nationals, as victims or perpetrators. Afterward, only on Periscope, Inner City Press asked Pinheiro if this every implicated the type of privacy concerns the UN and its Herve Ladsous cite as a basis to go after OHCHR's Anders Kompass, who blew the whistle on French troops' rapes in the Central African Republic, alleged violating victims' privacy.

  Pinheiro said disclosure would require the consent of the victims, but said that is most often given. He summoned over the Commission's Coordinator James Rodehaver, who previously did similar work on Afghanistan. It was Rodehaver who clarified that it is not countries but prosecutors and courts which can request information. He noted that a court in Sweden has cited the Commission's work, to show the conditions in a particular place and time in Syria.

  Pinheiro added that the Commission's work should make the type of “Mapping” exercises as was done in Eastern Congo unnecessary. The information has been collected. Now what? Watch this site.


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