Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 29, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President. Deputy Special Envoy Matar, thank you for your briefing. We continue to extend our full support to you and Special Envoy Pedersen. Monthly briefings to the Council remain crucial to guiding our efforts to end the conflict and so we appreciate your availability today.
Every facet of the UN-led political process to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is paralyzed, and we need to be honest and clear about why. The simple truth is that the Assad regime is determined to pursue a military, rather than a political, end to the conflict. For proof, we to need look no further than the over 350,000 people displaced by the regime and Russia’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Idlib since December. While Damascus and Moscow deliberately stall the UN-facilitated political process and deprive millions of humanitarian assistance, they pursue an illusory military solution in Syria – one that will undoubtedly fail to bring lasting resolution to the conflict.
The assault on Idlib that is underway represents the largest violation of Resolution 2254 to date, with humanitarian consequences that will prove both devastating and lasting. Attacks on the people of northwest Syria by forces of the Syrian regime, Russia, Iran, and Hizballah are unjustifiable, and will directly lead to life-threatening shortages of food, medicine, and other basic necessities. In light of these grave developments, our message today is that the Council must be united in telling the Syrian authorities and Russia that we will not abide by their pursuit of a military solution. We must demand Syria and Russia’s full, irreversible, and verifiable implementation of all aspects of Resolution 2254.
The United States will maintain economic and diplomatic pressure until the day the regime and its sponsors accept such a reform. Actors who obstruct, disrupt, or prevent a ceasefire in northern Syria will be further subjected to U.S. sanctions. Those who work to intimidate or prevent displaced persons from voluntarily returning to places of residence in Syria will not be allowed to do so with impunity. The United States remains deeply concerned about the escalation of Syrian and Russian military attacks in Idlib for humanitarian reasons and because of the inextricable link between the security of the Idlib province and the fate of the Constitutional Committee.
The Assad regime and its allies must end their offensive in northwest Syria immediately because of the grave impact it is having on the UN-facilitated political process. To those allies of the regime participating in the assault on Idlib, the United States is fully prepared to level sanctions, in accordance with the recently signed Caesar Bill, against foreign military contractors, mercenaries, or paramilitary forces that are knowingly operating in a military capacity inside Syria for the Government of Syria, Russia, or Iran.
The UN and the Council must work toward the implementation of a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire in line with Resolution 2254. We must also reject the regime and Russia’s tactical announcements of the so called “pauses” and “ceasefires” in northwest Syria to cast themselves as peacemakers. These are ceasefires in name only and are repeatedly followed by deadly attacks on civilians and fresh efforts by the regime to stall the work of the Constitutional Committee. The delays of the Committee are directed by the Assad regime, and are accompanied by a military push by the regime and its allies into northwest Syria, killing hundreds and further displacing close to 1 million Syrians. Moreover, the Russian Federation has publicly threatened to end the UN’s vital, life-saving cross-border aid to the very part of Syria under assault by Syrian and Russian forces by July when the Resolution 2504 expires. These threats serve to spread even more fear among Syrian civilians and compel the Syrian political opposition to surrender.
Instead of spending its dwindling financial resources on a costly and brutal military campaign against its own people, the Assad regime should be spending to provide its people with sustenance and essential services. While the Assad regime uses massive amounts of fuel in its military attacks against the people of Idlib, Syrian civilians cannot afford fuel to heat their homes or cook their children’s food. While the Assad regime forces its people to go without electricity, it spends millions of dollars on expensive rockets and missiles that kill Syrian civilians. And while soaring prices have put basic goods out of reach for the vast majority of Syrians, Assad regime elites continue to live lives of luxury.
Critically, what the Assad regime and Russia fail to recognize is that the military solution will never resolve the underlying reasons for the Syrian conflict. Therefore, if they continue to pursue this solution, instability, insurgency, and violent extremism will not abate. Absent a political solution to the conflict facilitated by the UN Special Envoy and in line with Resolution 2254, the United States will continue to withhold reconstruction funding from the regime; as should the United Nations, in keeping with its stated principles and parameters to withhold reconstruction funding until the political process under 2254 is complete. The Assad regime will not be legitimate in the eyes of the Syrian people until the regime allows for the basic demands of its citizens to be heard through freedom of assembly and elections; until the regime delivers on basic necessities such as food and water; and until the regime ensures accountability for years of atrocities, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and torture.
The only way to begin bridging these divides is for the Assad regime and its leaders to move forward with steps outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The culture of the regime’s institutions must change if it is ever to regain the trust of the Syrian people. The United States will maintain forceful economic and diplomatic pressure until the day the regime and its sponsors accept such reform. Thank you.