Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 29, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and first of all, I would like to express my condolences for this horrific massacre of dozens of civilians, including 11 children in the Afrin market, and all I can say is thank God for the White Helmets and the first responders there. Mark, thank you so much for your informative briefing, and I know you have so much important work to do these days, so we really want to say, again, a special thanks for your time to be with us this afternoon.
The United States is deeply concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Syria. Along with the Secretary-General’s report, what we have just heard from Mark makes abundantly clear that the virus is compounding the devastation of the existing humanitarian crisis. Essential aid is not reaching the frontlines in both northwest and northeast Syria, where Syrian civilians – already exposed to disease and deprivation from continued displacement – now face the added burden of shielding themselves from a pandemic.
We have all heard from experts and humanitarian workers on the ground. The simple truth is that when this Council was unable to keep the Yaroubia crossing point into Syria open under Resolution 2504, it not only denied the UN and NGOs the ability to serve those in dire need; it also set the stage for a disastrous COVID-19 outbreak that will ravage Syria – if we don’t immediately facilitate the delivery of additional aid. With that in mind, it bears repeating that the closure of Yaroubia resulted in the loss of 40 percent of medical equipment and supplies to the region – and that was before the COVID-19 crisis.
The Secretary-General’s report clearly states that the process to gain a response from the Syrian government for a request to deliver medical supplies to the northeast by land or air takes three to four months. Not days, months. In that same amount of time, COVID-19 has spread across the globe and more than 3 million new cases have emerged – and this, the outbreak, is just beginning in Syria. 90 to 120 days is entirely too long a stretch of time for the Syrian people to wait for essential supplies.
What’s more, when the Syrian regime does respond, the majority of time is to deny requests. As a consequence, the report goes on to say, only 30 percent of medical facilities in the northeast that were previously supported by cross-border deliveries from Yaroubia have continued to receive supplies. Colleagues, reducing the number of facilities receiving supplies by two thirds is no way to fight a pandemic. Experts on the ground have made clear what is needed to assist the people of Syria, and in response, we should be working to help secure essential aid.
Under current circumstances, the importance and urgency of providing cross-border aid could not be any clearer. To stifle aid flows at this perilous moment would defy reason. With millions of lives at stake, the United States calls on this Council, our council, to undertake immediate consideration of how to facilitate cross-border aid to all of Syria, regardless of who controls the territory.
As I close, I want to directly address the disinformation campaign being waged by the Assad regime and its allies. They falsely claim that U.S. sanctions are the primary cause of the regime’s inability to respond to COVID-19. In reality, the regime, with the support of its allies, is not permitting aid to reach areas it does not control.
There is international consensus that the Assad regime should be isolated politically, economically, and diplomatically until it participates meaningfully in the process laid out Council Resolution 2254. The regime’s disinformation campaign is nothing more than an effort to undermine this consensus. The Trump Administration’s Syria sanctions program does not target the provision of humanitarian goods, including medicine, medical supplies, and food to Syria. In fact, we provide exemptions and licenses for humanitarian aid and medical supplies to reach the Syrian people, and have done so for many years.
We have directly provided funding for humanitarian aid to regime-held areas, including through our recent announcement of nearly 18 million dollars in humanitarian assistance for the COVID-19 response in Syria. That is in addition to the over $10.6 billion in humanitarian need-based aid we have given to help Syrians everywhere. All of this is to say that if humanitarian aid is not reaching the Syrian people, it is simply because the Assad regime has chosen to prevent its delivery – not because of U.S. policy.
Our sanctions will remain in place until those perpetrators and profiting from conflict take irreversible steps to meet the aspirations of the Syrian people as outlined in Resolution 2254. The United States is eager to work with members of this Council, our council, to explore options for increasing cross-border aid into Syria, including the use of Yaroubia, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.