Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 29, 2022
Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Assistant-Secretary-General Msuya, for your briefings today. Your reports about the lack of progress in addressing the Syrian political situation, as envisioned in Resolution 2254, and the further deteriorating humanitarian crisis should obligate this Council to come together to hold the Assad Regime accountable for the decade of war it has waged and its ongoing violations of international law. Yet, Council unity on Syria is impossible due to one member; one member who repeatedly puts its narrow interests, and those of the Assad regime, ahead of peace, stability, and Syrians’ ever-growing humanitarian needs.
The United States remains concerned with the unfounded and unnecessary delays to advancing the Constitutional Committee’s process and the United States calls for an immediate resumption of the Committee’s work. Delays prolong and increase the suffering of the Syrian people through no fault of their own. Russia has repeatedly told this Council that the political process in Syria must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led. We agree. Yet, Russia is not practicing what it preaches by holding up the Constitutional Committee due to its own bilateral concerns, which have nothing to do with Syria.
Further, the United States reminds this Council, and the Assad regime, that there is more to Resolution 2254 than just the work of the Constitutional Committee. The regime should also be pursuing a nationwide ceasefire and securing the release of all arbitrarily detained persons in an organized and humane manner. If the Syrian regime is serious about political resolution, the United States and the international community needs to see concrete steps to demonstrate that it is following through on its announcement of amnesty, for example, by announcing where and under what conditions it released individuals from prison, or issuing lists of names of individuals released and granted amnesty. These tasks should continue no matter the status of the Constitutional Committee. We urge the Assad regime to make progress immediately on these important tasks.
The Special Envoy mentioned the U.S. airstrikes last week. As the United States stated in its letter to the Council dated August 26, on August 24, the United States undertook precision strikes against a facility in eastern Syria used by militia groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This action was in response to armed attacks against the United States and was taken in the exercise of the United States’ inherent right of self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. On August 15, 2022, Iran-backed militia groups had attacked U.S. forces at two locations in Syria. These attacks followed a series of attacks by Iran-backed militia groups on U.S. forces and facilities in Iraq and Syria throughout 2022, and even before, all of which have threatened the lives of U.S. and Coalition personnel. The United States military action was taken to protect and defend the safety of our personnel, to degrade and disrupt the ongoing series of attacks against the United States and our partners, and to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran-backed militia groups from conducting or supporting further attacks on U.S. personnel or facilities.
The United States also calls for immediate de-escalation in northern Syria. We remind all parties that they have an interest in stability and security. We remain deeply concerned about the destabilizing impact military activity has on this region, including mass civilian displacement and on our efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.
As we seek to build peace in Syria, it is as important as ever that we work to implement Resolution 2254 in an authentic and an enduring way. We urge all members of this Council, as well as the Assad regime, to work diligently to implement these important efforts and make progress towards peace, as well as to facilitate humanitarian access to the Syrian people, including through the cross-border mechanism we reauthorized in UN Security Council Resolution 2642.
So far this fiscal year, the United States has given nearly $900 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people – with nearly $15 billion given since the start of the crisis. Our humanitarian aid includes early recovery programs across the whole of Syria. These programs help Syrians access livelihoods and basic services, therefore reducing their dependence on external aid. The United States has long supported early recovery efforts across all parts of Syria, but we remain opposed to reconstruction in regime areas without authentic and enduring progress toward a political solution.
There was broad support within this Council for a full 12-month reauthorization of lifesaving aid through the renewal of this vital cross-border mechanism. Yet, due to Russia’s obstruction and its imposition of a truncated six-month duration, Syrian families and humanitarians already fear what January might bring. They are stockpiling for the upcoming harsh winter, worried aid may be cut off just as the cold and snow descend.
The United States welcomes the 14 truckloads of aid that moved across-line from Aleppo to Idlib on August 4, just as we welcome the more than 800 truckloads of aid moving through the Bab al-Hawa crossing into Syria each month. The United States supports humanitarian access to all Syrians in need, through all modalities. The Assad regime and Russia cannot say the same.
The regime and its Russian backers continue to block cross-line aid when it suits their cynical aims, including aid to the people of Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain, and Rukban. They continue to prevent baby formula and medicines from reaching the people of northeast Syria. And they continue to impede humanitarian access and independent monitoring in areas under regime control. Why else would the regime and Russia wish to end UN cross-border aid, if not to subjugate the people of northwest Syria in the same way?
In conclusion, Mr. President, the cross-border mechanism provides a critical lifeline of assistance. We urge all Security* members to support and strengthen humanitarian access, both cross-line and cross-border. Ultimately, we reiterate that the only way to end this dire humanitarian crisis is through a credible, inclusive political process, as described in Resolution 2254.
Thank you, Mr. President.