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Middle East Open Debate

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

 

Thank you, Mr President.  And thank you for your presence today.  We acknowledge Jordan’s efforts to promote a Middle East peace.  And we thank Jordan for bearing such a difficult burden sheltering so many of those who have fled the Syrian conflict.  Thank you also to the Secretary-General for his briefing.

We all know that 2014 will be a critical year for the Middle East Peace Process. The final status negotiations underway offer the best chance for peace in the region. Australia fully supports these negotiations towards a just and lasting two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.

We appreciate US Secretary of State Kerry’s perseverance and the effective engagement of all parties in the negotiations. Great courage and statesmanship will be required to achieve peace, and we offer our full support to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas at this critical juncture. For the best chance of success, we call on both parties to avoid any provocative actions that would undermine confidence in the talks. Australia itself stands ready to assist in any way it can to support the negotiations.

At the same time, we remain deeply concerned at the growing impact of the Syrian conflict on peace and stability in the region.

We welcome the efforts of the Secretary-General and the United Nations to start a process this week that will hopefully lead to a political solution, based on the principles agreed at the Geneva I conference in 2012. Australia has accepted the Secretary-General’s invitation to participate. The goal of Geneva II must remain the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as agreed in the Geneva I communique. We urge the Syrian Government and the Syrian National Coalition to participate constructively and countries with influence to lend their full support to the process. The Syrian parties should also heed the Secretary-General’s insistence that their delegations to Geneva II include broad and substantial representation of women.

We are concerned by the increasing presence in Syria of groups with links to Al-Qaeda. These organisations have no place in Syria’s future and existing Council sanctions against them must be implemented by all states.

The recent admission by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the situation on the ground in Syria is so bad that it can no longer update its estimate for the conflict’s death toll is a chilling fact.  It is so obvious that a political process that can bring an end to this conflict is so desperately needed.

The urgency of the humanitarian crisis was underscored last week by the discussions in Kuwait, where states met to discuss the unprecedented appeal by humanitarian agencies. We welcome the pledges that were made and urge that they be swiftly honoured and coordinated closely with the UN. We are also pleased to have been able to make our own contribution to the OPCW-UN joint mission and its vital work in removing all chemical weapons from Syria.  We must not allow that work to be delayed.  Syria must meet its obligations to eliminate elements of its chemical weapons program.

Foreign Minister Asselborn of Luxembourg has just described the terrible magnitude of the humanitarian crisis.  We endorse his comments.  It is imperative that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need. We again call on the parties to the conflict to adhere to the provisions of the Council’s Presidential Statement of last October – and immediately regarding access for humanitarian workers and supplies. We are especially concerned by the large numbers of civilians still trapped in besieged towns. All parties to the conflict must ensure that humanitarian supplies can get through, including through urgent local ceasefires. Those states with influence with the parties should reinforce this message, in accordance with the work plan as agreed in the Syria High-Level Group on Humanitarian Challenges convened by OCHA.

As we know, the conflict has a hugely destabilising impact on Syria’s neighbours. One year ago neighbouring countries were host to over half a million Syrian refugees – today the number is almost two-and-a-half million, more than ten per cent of Syria’s total population. The Council must be conscious that Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq are all shouldering substantial burdens as part of this conflict.  This underlines the need for continued efforts by the Council on Syria.

In Lebanon, the destabilising effects of the conflict are all too apparent through the string of recent car bombings, including the assassination of the former finance minister, and the attack on the Iranian Embassy. We commend the efforts of the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to maintain security, and urge all parties in Lebanon to adhere to President Sleiman’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict. Lebanon’s political parties themselves need to work together and form a government quickly so that Lebanon’s challenges can best be addressed.

In concluding, Mr President:

We condemn the violence perpetrated in western Iraq in recent weeks by the Al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its associates. The Council must continue to support the ongoing anti-terrorist efforts of the Iraqi Government, together with tribal leaders, in combating this aggression. Resolving this threat will be important to ensure there is no delay in the 30 April electoral timetable. Timely and credible elections will help facilitate an inclusive political dialogue in Iraq. Such an inclusive dialogue is essential.  We encourage Iraq’s various community leaders to continue to work together to achieve this and resolve the country’s challenges.

Thank you, Mr President.

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