Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 24, 2022
Thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, Under-Secretary-General Griffiths, and League of Arab States Assistant Secretary-General Zaki, for your briefings.
Eleven years after the beginning of the Syrian uprising and the start of the Assad regime’s brutal war on the people of Syria, some in this Council want to move on, arguing that the Security Council spends too much time discussing this issue. That would be a terrible mistake.
Syria remains one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises globally. We’re still seeing active conflict and forced displacement. Some countries want to pretend the conflict is over, but the Syrian people sadly know better than anyone else that this is not possible.
So let me be clear: the United States will not normalize relations with the Assad regime, and we urge states considering engagement, or already engaging with the regime, to weigh carefully the horrific atrocities visited by Assad on Syrians over the last decade – as well as the regime’s continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security.
I’d like to focus today on three aspects of the conflict in Syria: the need for concerted political engagement by all sides, the importance of a nationwide ceasefire, and the need to reauthorize and expand the cross-border humanitarian mechanism to address the dire humanitarian situation.
First, as we heard, we meet as the Constitutional Committee is convening its seventh round in Geneva. We urge all parties to engage meaningfully, constructively, and in good faith. We expect all sides to offer revised draft texts tomorrow in an effort to find common ground, rather than arrive intending to provoke the other side. It is time for all sides to comment on one another’s proposed texts. We fully support the work of Special Envoy Pedersen to advance progress towards a political solution in Syria in line with Resolution 2254.
We also recognize and commend the role of Syrian civil society organizations to forge a political solution, including civil society members of the Constitutional Committee. And in the spirit the ongoing Commission on the Status of Women, we want to welcome again the work of women-led groups to end the violence in their country, and we appreciate their attention to the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and children.
Second, Madam President, we remain concerned about ongoing violence in Syria and reiterate the call for a nationwide ceasefire. Russia has fueled and perpetrated the conflict in Syria with reckless attacks impacting civilians and infrastructure. We are watching with horror as Russia uses some of the same barbaric tactics in Ukraine. Russia’s relentless disinformation, including debasing the work of this Council and falsely alleging that other forces are responsible for these cruel attacks, whether in Syria or Ukraine, defies all credibility. It is disgraceful.
We are also deeply troubled by reports that Russia has recruited Syrians to fight on its behalf in Ukraine. This would demonstrate Russia’s true disdain for the Syrian people. Russia has hundreds of thousands of troops but would instead send Syrians to die in President Putin’s war of choice.
Thirdly, Madam President, we remain focused on the humanitarian situation. As we heard from Under-Secretary-General Griffiths, an estimated 14.6 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, a nine percent increase since 2021. This humanitarian crisis is the consequence of a conflict initiated by the Syrian regime and made tragically worse by that regime’s continued interference with the international humanitarian response. This interference includes the rampant corruption of regime officials, endemic schemes to siphon aid, the regime’s practice of favoring preferred communities and connected procurement companies, and its manipulation of exchange rates.
Given the vast needs, our collective efforts must be focused on expanding aid access so it can reach all Syrians. This includes northeast Syria, where availability of essential goods including medical supplies has decreased markedly since the closure of Yaroubiyah. The United Nations is facilitating the robust, transparent delivery of humanitarian aid into northwest Syria through its cross-border mechanism, which follows one of the most comprehensive risk management frameworks globally.
It is essential that the Security Council renew and expand the cross-border mechanism authorized in Resolution 2585 this July. We continue to support efforts to facilitate cross-line aid, including by Turkey, but cross-line aid deliveries simply cannot match the volume of humanitarian assistance that is delivered cross-border. Moreover, cross-line aid remains a risky endeavor, as the regime and its backers continue to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria and other parts of the country. We recommend any remaining skeptics of the cross-border mechanism visit Bab al-Hawa to witness for themselves the incredible volume of life-saving work made possible through cross-border assistance.
Lastly, Madam President, I’d just like to respond to my Russian colleague’s comments regarding U.S.-caused civilian casualties. Russia’s allegations of U.S.-caused civilian casualties through our counterterrorism efforts are brazenly hypocritical, given Russia’s well-documented history of deliberately attacking Syrian civilians with utter disregard for human life. Russia itself has also supported regime attacks on critical infrastructure, including the Arshani water station in January. I think Russia’s criticism is just a means to deflect attention from its own crimes in Syria and elsewhere.
Thank you, Madam President.