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Press Conference by Security Council President on Work Programme for April, 3 April 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

Introducing the Security Council programme of work for the April presidency of the United States today, the country’s Permanent Representative said control of nuclear weapons and illicit cross-border traffic would be highlighted alongside the conflicts in Syria, Mali and elsewhere.

“The greatest danger that we and all States around the world face is a nuclear weapon or nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists,” said Susan Rice, recalling the importance that President Barack Obama had placed on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and noting his recent participation in a second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea, last month. On 19 April, the Secretary-General would brief the Council on global efforts to defray such threats, she said, adding that the Council would probably reaffirm its support for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in that sphere, as well as the importance of Member States implementing Council resolution 1540 (2004).

She said an open debate on improving United Nations capacity to help States counter illicit cross-border flows was planned for 25 April. The Council would also address the prevention of trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, small arms, illicit drugs and persons, as well as terrorism. Noting that such illicit flows were often addressed as individual threats, she said they represented the same essential problem — controlling borders — and the debate aimed to address them in a more holistic way. The Secretary-General would brief on United Nations structures that could assist a more comprehensive effort, and in discussions on a possible presidential statement, the Council would consider suggestions as to how those structures could better support efforts by Member States.

Turning to other thematic issues, she said that on 24 April, the Council would hear a briefing on women and peace and security, a particular priority for her country following the launch of President Obama’s national action plan on the issue. Returning to a theme of the last United States presidency, she said her country would promote young people’s engagement with the Council by partnering with schools and non-governmental organizations to bring them into public Council sessions, and by enabling young journalists to cover its meetings.

Concerning conflict situations, she said with regard to Sudan and South Sudan there would be consultations during the month on the situation in the disputed border area of Abyei as well as on Darfur. On Syria, she reported on a briefing yesterday by Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, who had noted that the Damascus Government had apparently agreed to end offensive military action and complete a withdrawal from populated areas by 10 April. The Council was now working on a draft presidential statement underscoring the importance of adhering to that commitment, she said, warning, however, that should the Government instead intensify violence, the Council would “need to respond to that failure in a very urgent and serious way”.

On Mali, she said the Council had been briefed in the morning by B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who had described the situation there as having taken a turn for the worse in the past days, with key towns in the north having fallen to rebels. The Council was working on a presidential statement on that topic, she said, adding that it was also considering border closures, financial measures and travel bans on those threatening the country’s stability, in concert with regional organizations. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had already placed some 3,000 troops on standby to deal with further coup- or rebellion-related challenges that might ensue as security deteriorated, internal displacement climbed past 90,000 people and the number of those fleeing the country rose to 130,000. Council members were united in a demand that junta leaders step down immediately and restore constitutional order, she added.

Responding to questions, she said the commitments made by the Syrian Government should not be affected by support for the opposition, as affirmed in Istanbul by the “Friends of a Democratic Syria”. The United States was providing non-lethal support to strengthen opposition cohesion, in addition to doubling humanitarian assistance. There was hope, but also much scepticism, as to whether Damascus would adhere to its commitments to cease all violence by 10 April, she said, warning that if it did not, the serious response of which she had spoken — which “might change the calculus of the Government in Damascus” — was possible now that the Council was united in supporting Mr. Annan’s plan, even if it had previously been divided on the need for action.

She said that if Government violence ended, the opposition would be persuaded to halt all violence within 48 hours. The Council would then consider a resolution “endorsing dispatch of a monitoring mechanism”, and another planning team mission could be sent for that purpose.

Asked why the opposition would lay down their arms when millions of dollars in support were coming, she said violence by opposition groups had started in response to Government repression, but it was hard to predict what would happen when it ended. The United States did not want the violence to spiral out of control, and that was why it supported Mr. Annan’s efforts.

On ensuring accountability for human rights violations committed by the Assad Government, she said her country would provide assistance to Syrians for investigations, and to the opposition so as to encourage a coherent approach to negotiating and charting its own future. There was no contradiction in a policy of encouraging a negotiated resolution of conflict in Syria while urging accountability for human rights violations, she said, pointing out that it was the same prescription that the United States was promoting in Sudan.

In keeping with the Council presidency’s intention to engage youth this month, Ms. Rice took a final question via Twitter from @freeppl, who asked: “Why are you not acting swiftly towards the killings in Syria as you did in Libya?” She replied: “The Security Council has been shamefully and woefully divided on Syria, which was not the case in Libya.” Additionally, the circumstances were different, she said, noting that there had been no Arab League request for intervention to protect civilians in Syria. On the ground, the opposition was much less unified and did not control an identifiable swath of territory, she pointed out. “But we will keep at it,” she promised.

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