Thank you, John, for your briefing.
All eyes are now on northwestern Syria, and we are gravely concerned about the threats to civilian lives should the regime and its allies undertake a wider offensive in Idlib province.
Tensions are rising there and so is the violence. In recent weeks alone, hundreds of civilians have already lost their lives, many of them women and children. Education authorities reportedly have suspended all school activities in cities near Idlib for several days due to hostilities.
Syrian regime military operations in Idlib, particularly with Russian military support, would escalate the conflict and further undercut this Council’s efforts to work toward a political solution to the conflict.
We are also profoundly troubled by reports that the regime is continuing its practice of targeting medical facilities, an egregious and ruthless tactic flagrantly in defiance of international humanitarian law and specifically in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2286. There is no excuse to claim ignorance about the locations of these facilities under the de-confliction mechanisms that are in place, and doing so only adds to the lies, crimes, and countless accounts of human tragedy that have defined this conflict over the past 7 years.
The United States takes seriously the warnings from Special Envoy de Mistura and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator that a military operation in Idlib and surrounding areas would not only endanger the lives of many of the more than three million civilians sheltering there, but would also severely interfere with humanitarian partners’ ability to deliver life-saving assistance.
Unless the Astana Guarantors – Russia, Iran, and Turkey – uphold their own established de-escalation zone in Idlib province to stop the regime’s imminent assault, these civilians will have nowhere left to turn to seek safe refuge or aid.
The United States is also deeply concerned that the regime may again use chemical weapons against civilian populations as part of its assault on Idlib, with devastating consequences for humanitarian conditions on the ground and further eroding the international regime prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.
As we made clear in our joint statement to commemorate the anniversary of the regime’s deadly sarin gas attack in Ghouta, the United States and our allies, France and the United Kingdom, will respond appropriately to any new chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.
Madam President, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees assesses that conditions in Syria are not yet conducive for large-scale refugee returns. Despite the UN’s assessment, however, the Assad regime has called on Syrians around the world to return home, but has done little to create the conditions necessary to make that a reality.
In fact, the regime continues to make the country a threatening and dangerous place for its own people by routinely blocking UN cross-border humanitarian access, stalling the UN-led political process in Geneva, and proceeding with airstrikes and ground offensives placing millions of civilians in peril.
As the leading donor of humanitarian assistance for Syria, the United States supports aid that reaches 4 million Syrians across all 14 governorates every month, and we will continue to provide this support to the Syrian people. If our Russian partners are serious about their concern for refugees and other displaced Syrians, we recommend that they stop enabling the Syrian regime’s ongoing and indiscriminate violence, maintain the de-escalation areas, and allow unhindered humanitarian access to those in need – in full accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2165.
The best and only durable solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria is through a credible political process in Geneva that leads unalterably to constitutional reform, UN-supervised presidential and parliamentary elections, and a political transition that genuinely reflects the will of the Syrian people, as well as accountability for human rights abuses committed during the conflict. These goals often seem out of reach, but we owe it to the Syrian people to support every effort to make them a reality.