Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 29, 2018



Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Miss Ghelani, for your briefing and for the important work that OCHA is doing to support the Syrian people.

We are grateful to the UN and the brave aid workers on the ground who made the November 3 aid delivery of critical humanitarian aid, including much-needed vaccinations for 5,193 children. This delivery also provided life-saving assistance to more than 50,000 internally-displaced persons, most of them women and children.

The United States worked for months with the United Nations, like-minded allies, and partners to secure Russian agreement to support the UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian assistance delivery. We also worked together to extract the necessary approvals from the Syrian regime to allow the UN to make its first humanitarian assistance delivery to the Rukban camp since January – and the first-ever from Damascus.

Mr. President, humanitarian needs in Rukban remain immediate and severe. A one-time aid delivery to Rukban is a good start, but is certainly not enough. It’s essential to provide sustained access to the camp for UN humanitarian workers.

The United States has shown that we will do anything possible to facilitate aid to areas in Syria where we have influence. And we remain ready to provide security for the delivery of any future humanitarian aid through areas under the control of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

The Rukban aid delivery is a clear example that Russia and the United States can work together to help the people of Syria, and that the Russian Federation can secure regime approvals for humanitarian deliveries. There is no conceivable reason the Syrian regime should block future deliveries. We are willing to work with Russia to keep this arrangement going, and we hope that they can work with Damascus to facilitate more of these deliveries in the future.

We fully support the UN’s current plan to make another delivery to Rukban in mid-December, and call on Russia and the Syrian regime to do their part to ensure that this happens without delay.

Mr. President, we must all continue to push for full, unhindered, and sustained humanitarian access throughout Syria for the millions of people in need, including greater access for those in eastern Ghouta and the southwest. We urge Russia and Damascus to step-up and get humanitarian aid to all the 13 million Syrians who need it.

Mr. President, the Syrian regime has the opportunity to demonstrate its willingness and its ability to facilitate aid deliveries throughout territories it controls. But humanitarian access has not improved in communities firmly back under the control of the regime – in places like Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus. Why?

Because the regime seeks to punish these communities outside or formerly outside of the regime’s control for what they believe is a lack of loyalty to Assad. This is wrongheaded. Unwillingness to approve facilitation letters and other bureaucratic delays essentially denies access, and they continue.

As access to people in need across Syria continues to be severely constrained, the UN and its partners provide life-saving aid to some 750,000 people a month through cross-border operations. There is currently no credible alternative to reach those people. Therefore, Mr. President, it is absolutely imperative that this Council support the re-authorization of UN Security Council Resolution 2165’s cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism.

The United States strongly supports the renewal of Resolution 2165 for an additional 12 months, as called for by the Secretary-General. We look forward to working with our colleagues on the Council to ensure that the mechanism is renewed.

Mr. President, humanitarian conditions in Syria will continue to be dire absent a credible UN-led political process. The formation of the constitutional committee must move forward as quickly as possible. Despite the relative calm afforded to the people of Idlib in the past two months since the Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement, Idlib’s three million residents live daily with uncertainty. What is certain is that any military escalation would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences for millions of civilians and for the stability and security of Syria’s neighbors.

We need only to look at the events of the weekend in Aleppo where there are reports from the Syrian regime of an alleged chemical attack and Russian airstrikes struck inside the Turkish-Russian de-militarized zone. We can all see how fragile the situation is and that millions of Syrian lives are at stake. In the October 27 Istanbul Summit communique, Russia committed to a “lasting ceasefire” in Idlib. To date, that ceasefire has resulted in very substantial reductions in violence.

Mr. President, it’s absolutely essential to ensure that the Syrian regime does not seize on false pretexts to undermine this ceasefire and launch an offensive in Idlib.

Allowing the Syrian regime to undermine this ceasefire would not only lead to a resumption of violence but would also seriously jeopardize prospects for a political solution to this conflict.

We continue to engage the Russian government and military at senior levels to make clear that an offensive in Idlib would represent a reckless escalation of the conflict and would put millions of civilians in danger.

The instability in Idlib for many civilians is palpable. Just last week two of Syria’s most prominent peaceful resistance activists, Mr. Raed Fares and Mr. Hamud Junaid, were assassinated in Idlib. I would like to express our condolences to the families and friends of Mr. Fares and Mr. Junaid on behalf of my government. Their selfless dedication to amplifying the voices of the Syrian people’s desire for peace, justice, and dignity were sources of inspiration for so many.

The Syrian people have been silenced for too long, and the prospect of a constitutional committee represents an important opportunity to move the political process forward to finally end this conflict. We ask the Syrian regime to take this opportunity and to make the move toward peace and stability in their country and in their region. Thank you.