Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
June 29, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you Susannah Sirkin for challenging the duties of this Council; the moral duties of the Council. And thank you, Mark, for your briefing today. I could hear the urgency in your voice and you know the time is now and it’s the urgency of the moment, so thank you for, once again, being with us today and being on that emotional roller coaster and I can give you our word that, as Christoph said, that we promise to do better the next time, we will do better this time.
In only 11 days, the Council’s mandate for the life-saving cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism will expire. Eleven days. I can’t overstate how important this Council’s decision will be to millions of people throughout Syria. And the decision before the Council is simple: Will we do the right thing and save lives, or will we allow people die?
The answer is clear to the United States, as it should be for every member of this Council. We must authorize the UN’s continued use of both Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam for 12 months, the mandate of Resolution 2504 for 12 months, and temporarily re-open the al-Yaroubia crossing into the northeast to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Our position is based on fundamental humanitarian imperative and basic human decency. It is based on our obligation to feed the hungry; tend to the sick; do all we can for those who are suffering and in need; basic needs. This is a responsibility each of us shares as we consider the renewal of Resolution 2504. We – and I mean we, as in each one of us – must make the right choice.
We must take action to save lives because al-Assad, his regime, and his allies have failed to meet their basic responsibilities while waging war against the Syrian people. They have turned humanitarian aid into a weapon of this war for almost a decade.
As we speak, the regime’s despicable starve and siege tactics are heavily restricting the UN’s internal cross-line assistance efforts to places like northeast Syria, Rukban, and rural Damascus. These communities rely on cross-line aid approved by Damascus – but they only receive it when politically expedient for Damascus to provide the approvals. This is why only a handful of the cross-line convoys have reached northeast Syria since January, and why the people inside the Rukban IDP camp have had to go for months without UN shipments of food and other supplies. Basic needs.
Because the Assad regime will not permit the UN to replace cross-border provision of medicines and medical supplies via the cross-line mechanism, al-Yaroubia remains the most viable and effective option for the UN’s delivery of such needed supplies and services. Once again, these needed supplies and services are basic, they’re basic needs. Its closure undermines the UN’s response and the response of all actors that rely on UN-imported supplies. Further, the crossing is critical to ensuring the provision of adequate support to the people and the communities recovering from the scourge of ISIS in eastern Syria and in helping prevent ISIS from reemerging in Iraq and Syria.
We cannot mistake the one-off deliveries and one-off approvals from Damascus as real progress toward improving and sustained humanitarian access. The UN continues to tell us that cross-line deliveries are insufficient and that large gaps remain between what is needed by millions of Syrians and what Damascus approves. We should trust and we should act on the UN’s assessment.
This is why the United States is fighting to implement the Secretary-General’s recommendation to address the needs in northeast Syria through a combination of cross-line and cross-border aid. Restoring cross-border access through the al-Yaroubia crossing is essential as we all work with the UN to make cross-line deliveries more regular and impartial – not based on the whims of the murderous regime in Damascus.
Troubling, we understand that Russia has terminated its deconfliction arrangement with the UN, putting the lives of millions in northwest Syria at risk and further obstructing the delivery of UN assistance in this area. Russia’s decision is completely unacceptable, and is designed to erect new barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance, placing in serious jeopardy the safety and security of humanitarians on the ground. We are shocked that Russia would take such a dangerous step.
I want to address head on the accusations that U.S. sanctions under the Caesar Act are undermining humanitarian access in Syria. Suggestions that our sanctions prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Syria is propaganda meant to distract from the horrors of the Assad regime and its irresponsible economic mismanagement. The Caesar Act and Syria sanctions do not target medicine or food. They focus on significant transactions that support the Government of Syria or certain persons acting on behalf of the regime. They target the Assad regime, not the Syrian people.
Further, the Caesar Act provides for certain waivers, including a national security interest waiver and a long-term humanitarian waiver. The United States government will continue to work closely with international organizations and the humanitarian assistance community to address any obstacles from our sanctions. We welcome conversations with partners to work through any challenges. As the largest humanitarian donor to Syria, the U.S. has provided $10.6 billion in humanitarian assistance to displaced and conflict-affected Syrians inside and outside of the regime’s control and throughout the region. The Caesar Act does not change this, and we will continue our support through our various international and Syrian implementing partners.
As we have heard from our briefers, we must never play politics with the lives of the Syrian people. Syria is on the brink of famine. The number of reported COVID-19 cases, while still mercifully low, has already increased to five times what they were just one month ago, and we know there are not enough testing kits, PPE, and medicine to prevent the disease from spreading in Syria.
So, I want to ask all of you: How can you look at the situation in Syria and not advocate for a full renewal of the cross-border mechanism for northwest and northeast Syria? And as Susannah stated, how can we bargain with the lives and the health of Syrians? It just doesn’t make sense.
The Council has a moral obligation to the Syrian people to ensure they receive assistance, to ensure that they survive, and to ensure the cross-border mechanism is more vital now than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trump Administration will answer the call to meet this obligation. We need everyone to answer this call. I urge all of you to stand with us, and not to back down in the face of opposition from the Russian Federation as it acts to protect its political and military interests in the region.
You know, at the beginning of my remarks, I asked a very simple question: Will we do the right thing to save lives, or will we allow people to die? I hope the answer to that question is evident to everyone because it really is that simple. I know where we stand, and I hope you’ll join me.
Let me close with a direct message to the Syrian people, many of these people I met when I traveled to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in March. The United States will not waiver in our commitment to you. We will do everything in our power to get you the aid and assistance you need, the basic needs, to survive, thrive, and create a better future for yourselves and your families. I personally will not rest until every child, woman, and man have their needs met. The time is now. We are with you, and we will remain with you.