Ambassador Robert Wood
Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
February 28, 2023
Thank you, Madam President. And I also wish to thank Under-Secretary-General Griffiths, and Special Envoy Pedersen, and Rasha Muhrez, for their briefings.
We are now three weeks on from the deadly February 6 earthquakes that killed so many. We reiterate our support for the UN’s response to all who have been affected by this tragedy, and we have so far announced $185 million in humanitarian aid for the people of Turkiye and Syria.
We welcome the news that UN humanitarian aid continues to move through the al-Rai, Bab al-Salaam, and Bab al-Hawa crossings, and we hope these essential and lifesaving cross-border shipments will increase as more supplies become available. We applaud Syrian civil society groups and NGOs who have providing such critical services across all of Syria, especially in the northwest.
However, the humanitarian crisis in earthquake-affected areas did not begin three weeks ago. The need for more UN aid and access, particularly in northwest Syria, has been painfully clear for years. And today, as we begin to grasp the devastation of these earthquakes, it is clear that aid will be necessary well into the future.
We as Council members must all continue to closely monitor the situation, to ensure that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need. We must ensure that cross-border aid access to the Syrian people continues without interference. If that requires Council action, then we must be prepared to act.
The United States reiterates our support for the distribution of humanitarian aid through all modalities, including cross-line. We strongly support OCHA’s operational plan for cross-line aid to the northwest. We also call on the regime and Russia to finally facilitate unhindered cross-line humanitarian access to the Rukban settlement.
As we work to increase aid to all affected Syrians, we must remain cognizant of the troubling reports of the regime’s diversion of lifesaving aid that has ended up for sale in markets or in the hands of authorities seeking to benefit from its distribution. We also are concerned by reports of other actors diverting aid or blocking deliveries. We call on the regime and all parties to facilitate humanitarian operations and refrain from diverting or politicizing aid.
We note with concern that in the wake of a natural disaster, there are troubling reports that the Assad regime has resumed shelling of northwest Syria, causing more damage and distress. This underscores the need for a nationwide ceasefire and progress on the political track.
We urge the Syrian regime to fully cooperate with Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to convene good faith discussions towards a political solution to the conflict in line with Resolution 2254. The effects of the earthquake were all the more devastating as a result of the conditions created by a conflict that is close to entering its 12th year. The situation in cities like Aleppo is much more challenging after the earthquakes because so many of the buildings were destroyed by the Assad regime, which bombed and shelled its own citizens.
This Council is rightly seized with the humanitarian situation. But we all know this Council can and should be doing more to support the political process. The Constitutional Committee remains stalled because of Russia’s arbitrary demands. Let us all recommit to a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process, under the UN’s auspices, including through its European headquarters in Geneva.
Resolution 2254 is the agreed upon roadmap to solve the conflict and address the long-term needs of the Syrian people. Instead of using the earthquake to distract from the need for reforms, we call on the regime to at long last step up and genuinely participate in a political process that helps all Syrians.
We know some Council Members have suggested that U.S. sanctions on Syria may be hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Some members have made those suggestions in good faith, others not.
Let me be clear: U.S. sanctions on Syria target those individuals and entities that have brutalized the people of Syria for over a decade. These are individuals who have tortured Syrians, dropped chemical weapons on Syrians, or stolen from the Syrian people through rampant corruption. U.S. sanctions do not target humanitarian assistance to those in need – and we have made that clear through our actions.
Our sanctions programs have numerous carveouts to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including disaster relief, and we have issued several General Licenses to make clear to NGOs and humanitarian organizations that our sanctions do not target humanitarian assistance.
Moreover, we stand ready to assist humanitarian organizations if they perceive any hinderance to delivering assistance.
My final point, Madam President, with regard to fertilizer donations, the United States is not the cause of any reported delays in Russia’s ability to deliver fertilizer to Syria, as claimed by Russia. If Russia wants to donate fertilizer, it can do so. Russia should work directly with the UN to distribute agricultural donations inside Syria through its local partners.
Thank you, Madam President.