Remarks by the Vice President at a Meeting of the United Nations Security Council
New York, New York
***Prior to the Vice President’s formal remarks, he spoke about the recent passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and then asked the chamber for a moment of silence:
Before I begin today, I’d like to take a moment to mark the passing this week of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of America’s greatest warriors for peace who served so ably here in this chamber and, quite frankly, far beyond. He did it with an unrivaled tenacity and skill. Ambassador Holbrooke took on, for the past half century, the most daunting foreign policy challenges from Vietnam to the Cold War, Bosnia to Afghanistan. And through his intellect, determination, and sheer force of his will – and some of you experienced that force of his will - he helped to bend the arc of history towards progress. And while we mourn his loss, he endures in the countless lives preserved through his life’s work. May I ask all those present in the chamber to join me in observing a moment of silence in commemoration of his passing.
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
AT A MEETING OF THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Distinguished colleagues, it’s a genuinely rare opportunity to chair this session of the United Nations Security Council to address the important issues related to the Republic of Iraq.
Let us briefly reflect on what has been a critically important period in Iraq’s history. In recent years, the Iraqi people have emerged from the depths of sectarian violence, and they have flatly rejected the grim future offered by extremists, and they have earned themselves a chance for much better days ahead.
Iraqi forces are now in charge of securing their country, and they have proved themselves more than capable of doing so, as I and many of you have seen with our own eyes.
Since our administration came to office, we’ve withdrawn over 100,000 American troops from Iraq and ended our combat mission there. We have transitioned from a military-led engagement to a civilian-led engagement.
And the 50,000 troops who remain until the end of next year, under the security agreement with the Iraqi government have been given a new primary mission: advising and assisting their Iraqi counterparts. Meanwhile, the frequency of violent attacks in Iraq has reached its lowest level - thank the Lord - since 2003.
As you know, in March the Iraqi people conducted a historic election. And last month Iraq’s political leaders agreed on a framework for government that reflects the election’s result.
This government will include blocs representing every major community, and will not exclude nor marginalize anyone. It is made in Iraq by Iraqis, and it reflects a remarkable development that in today’s Iraq, politics - politics has emerged as the dominant means for settling differences and advancing its interest.
And Iraqi leaders must now honor, in a timely manner, the commitment made to each other and to the Iraqi people that were made in the negotiating process.
Going forward, the United States will continue to do its part to reinforce the progress being made in Iraq, consistent with our strategic framework agreement with the Iraqis - to forge an enduring partnership across a range of sectors, including education, energy, trade, health, culture, information technology, law enforcement - the judiciary and security. And we respectfully urge other nations to share their expertise as well with this new emerging Iraq.
I don't need to remind this gathering of the important role the United Nations played and continues to play in the support of Iraq’s development and the very, very heavy price it has paid. We will not forget the horror of August 19, 2003, when terrorists took the lives of 22 people, including an outstanding - and I think we would all agree, remarkable - U.S. [sic] envoy, Sérgio de Mello.
It was a tragic harbinger of all that was to follow after August of 2003. But the U.N.’s important work continued, and it continues to this day. It continues because of the foresight of the U.N. Special Representative who rightly observed, and I quote him, “There is no such thing as a distant crisis,” since “you can’t help people from a distance.”
That wisdom forged during a career spent in the hard-luck corners of the world lives on in all of those bravely helping Iraq to build a better future, including the men and women of the United Nations mission in Iraq.
Over more than a dozen visits to Iraq, as their foreign minister can tell you, I jokingly kid that I deserve Iraqi citizenship. I’ve spent so much time there, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. And over those dozen visits since the war began, I’ve seen firsthand - as I hope many of you have - UNAMI’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, conduct elections, advance inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation, aiding vulnerable communities, promoting the protection of human rights, and the reform of the justice system. Quite frankly, I’ve watched these young men and women who are the staff of the Special Representative literally risk their lives. I’ve watched them, and I think sometimes those outside this vaulted chamber underestimate the incredible talent, the incredible dedication and the incredible devotion the men and women you send - we send in these regions. They deserve our gratitude. They deserve our special thanks - not just to the special envoys, like former Envoy de Mello, but also Ad Melkert, who I worked with every single day that I was in Iraq. And I will say again, we would not have gotten to this point and I think our colleagues in Iraq would acknowledge were it not for their staff, whose work is often done under trying conditions - and I might add, Mr. Secretary, I think their work remains as important as it ever has been.
To be sure, Iraq faces further challenges on the road to security and prosperity. Attacks by extremists remain an unacceptable aspect of daily life in Iraq. We’re particularly concerned about recent attempts to targets innocents because of their faith, including both Christians and Muslims, and to lash out at security forces working to keep the country safe.
But I firmly believe that despite these challenges, Iraq’s best days are ahead. As a founding member of the United Nations, Iraq seeks and deserves the opportunity to resume its rightful role in the community of nations. Toward that end, this session formally acknowledges the significant steps Iraq has taken toward fulfilling its obligations to the United Nations incurred in the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War.
Accordingly, the Security Council has now lifted a restriction imposed by the United Nations Security Resolutions 687 and 707, relating to weapons of mass destruction and civilian nuclear activities, in recognition of Iraq’s commitment to nonproliferation; its compliance with relevant treaties and other international instruments; its adherence to the highest nonproliferation standards, and its provisional application of the additional protocols to its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency pending its entry into force.
The Council has also terminated the residual activities of the Oil for Food program because Iraq has successfully closed out remaining contracts and the Council has ended the development fund for Iraq effective June 30, 2011, due to the steps Iraq has taken toward resolving debts and claims inherited from the previous regime and establishing accountable arrangements for transitioning the fund.
We all know that our work on these issues is not complete. We urge Iraq’s neighbors and the rest of the international community to continue to work closely with Iraq on its remaining Chapter 7 obligations. And we strongly support resolution of outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait.
Since President Obama asked me to oversee our administration’s Iraqi policy when we took office, let me assure you that the United States will continue to work with the Iraqi leaders on the important tasks that lie ahead, conducting the census, integrating Kurdish forces into Iraqi security forces, keeping commitments to the Sons of Iraq, resolving disputed internal boundaries in the future of Kirkuk, passing critical hydrocarbon legislation and a fiscally responsible budget, and helping to stabilize its economy.
We must also continue our efforts to protect and support those displaced by war, and to help enable voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable returns.
Today, as we take stock of all the Iraqi people have endured and accomplished, and all that still must be done, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Iraq is on the cusp of something remarkable - something remarkable - a stable, self-reliant nation; a just, representative and accountable government; and a positive force for peace and stability in the region. We all have an interest in redeeming that promise and preserving the gains Iraq has made.
I thank you all for listening. I shall now invite the distinguished Secretary General to take the floor.