Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 27, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, Under-Secretary-General Griffiths, and especially Ms. Albarouki, for your input into our consultations today.

Special Envoy Pedersen, the United States deeply appreciates your tireless efforts and that of your team to convene the sixth session of the Constitutional Committee.  However, we also share your frustration and assessment that the results were disappointing. This most recent round, which started with such promise, ended up as one more missed opportunity by the regime to show its sincere commitment to the committee’s work. We will continue to urge all parties to participate in good faith in the Constitutional Committee process, and to change their unproductive behavior so that the Committee can open doors for other aspects of the political process.

The recent increase in violence across Syria, including the attacks in Damascus and in Ariha on October 20, which we heard mentioned of, only underscore the imperative for a nationwide ceasefire. This remains an essential element of Resolution 2254. And we urge you, Special Envoy, to continue to push for progress on all aspects of the Resolution. We very much welcome the attention and focus you’ve given to achieving the release of the tens of thousands of Syrians who are reportedly still arbitrarily detained inside Syria.

Resolution 2254 remains the only internationally agreed path to a peaceful solution to the conflict. As Secretary of State Blinken said on October 13, the United States government will neither normalize relations with the Assad regime, nor will we support efforts to do so, until we see irreversible progress toward a political solution.

Let me address sanctions: U.S. sanctions are targeted at the Assad regime and those who have perpetuated this conflict, and the United States is committed to working with parties to ensure sanctions do not impede humanitarian and early recovery efforts. On October 18, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that the United States will continue to seek ways to tailor sanctions to mitigate unintended economic, humanitarian, and political impacts on non-targeted populations abroad, including the civilian population of Syria.

We, too, are alarmed by the latest wave of COVID-19 in Syria. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the northeast, the northwest, and in regime-held territories. Fueling this problem is the fact that, as we heard, Syria’s vaccine coverage is among the lowest in the world, with less than two percent of all Syrians being fully vaccinated. The United States has taken steps to help mitigate this latest COVID outbreak. On September 25, USAID Administrator Power announced that the United States would be providing more than $108 million in health assistance for Syria.

The COVID-19 situation also underscores the vital importance of the cross-border humanitarian mechanism, through which COVID-19 vaccines and other lifesaving supplies, including bottled oxygen, are able to reach the people of Idlib. As Under-Secretary-General Griffiths has told us, the needs in Syria are rising, so we must seize every opportunity to help those affected. We support all modalities for aid delivery, and we encourage the Council to identify ways to expand aid access across the country.

We also want to take this opportunity to reiterate the U.S.’ deep appreciation to all states that are hosting Syrian refugees, particularly Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. While many Syrian refugees hold out hope that they will return to their country, no one should pressure them to risk their lives – or those of their loved ones – to do so. And that is precisely what is at stake.  We are deeply disturbed by reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documenting horrific abuses of individuals who have returned to Syria, including killings, torture, sexual violence, and forced disappearances, carried out by the Assad regime and affiliated militias. These reports are entirely consistent with information this Council has received over the past years.

It is therefore no surprise that voluntary returns of refugees to Syria are at their lowest level since at least 2016, according to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees. In surveys, refugees continue to emphasize that the conditions in Syria are not suitable for safe and dignified returns, and that the Syrian regime’s policies – the arbitrary detentions, the torture, the forced disappearances, the mandatory conscription, the seizure and destruction of private property, the tolerance of militias – all of that constitutes major barriers to return.

The United States urges all Member States to continue to protect Syrian refugees; we support all efforts to press their return at this point as being premature. We pledge to maintain our support to those member states in meeting the needs of refugees and host communities.

Thank you, Mr. President.