Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
June 16, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for your briefing. Thank you, Geir. And Noura, thank you so much for reminding us that we must not turn a blind eye, and may I express my sincere gratitude for your informative comments on such a very dear topic to me.
The United States reiterates its call for the Assad regime to immediately release the thousands of civilians being held arbitrarily in detention centers, where – as we’ve noted before – crowded and inhumane conditions significantly increase the risk of a rapid spread of COVID-19. Equally important is progress on the Constitutional Committee, whose stakeholders have agreed on the agenda but have not met in recent months because of the regime co-chair’s unwillingness to convene virtually. Special Envoy Pedersen, we welcome your announcement of the agreement of the opposition and regime to convene the Constitutional Committee in August.
Last week, Syrian and Russian airstrikes in Idlib and northwestern Hama caused the largest disruption of the Idlib ceasefire agreement since it was established by Turkey and Russia on March 5.
The United States condemns these acts of violence by Syria and Russia, and provocations by terrorist groups on the ground, for violating the ceasefire. We call for an immediate end to airstrikes by the regime and Russia, and we urge Moscow and Damascus to recommit to an enduring, verifiable nationwide ceasefire. Maintaining the ceasefire in northwest Syria is absolutely vital for the achievement of a political solution to this conflict, and it is essential for the work of the Special Envoy and the full implementation of Resolution 2254.
Once again, we reiterate our call for the United Nations to be at the center of efforts to formalize the Idlib ceasefire under UN-auspices, in accordance with UN Envoy Pedersen’s call for a nationwide ceasefire. This call is in line with Resolution 2254’s demands to establish a nationwide ceasefire, and for the UN Special Envoy to monitor the lines of contact to ensure that the ceasefire is upheld.
The United States is resolute in our commitment to reaching a political solution to the Syrian conflict. We will continue to reject any attempt by the Assad regime and its allies to use military force, obstruction, or disinformation to bypass UN efforts to restore peace in Syria.
The recent violations of the Idlib ceasefire remind us of just how fragile the political process is – and consequently, how important it is to deny the Assad regime and its allies a military victory in its nearly decade-long war against the Syrian people.
To that end, tomorrow, the Trump Administration will take decisive steps to prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory, and to steer the regime and its allies back toward Special Envoy Pedersen and the UN-led political process. Our aim is to deprive the Assad regime of the revenue and the support it has used to commit the large-scale atrocities and human rights violations that prevent a political resolution and severely diminish the prospects for peace.
The mandatory sanctions provided for in the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 are aimed at deterring bad actors who continue to aid and finance the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people while simply enriching themselves and their families. The Caesar legislation contains strong provisions to ensure humanitarian assistance is not in any way impacted by the legislation. It also outlines requirements for the suspension of the Caesar Act sanctions on Syria, including ending all brazen attacks towards its people and holding all perpetrators accountable.
The Assad regime has a clear choice to make: pursue the political path established in Resolution 2254, or leave the United States with no other choice but to continue withholding reconstruction funding and impose sanctions against the regime and its financial backers.
I want to focus with a few words on July the 10th – 23 days away – when the Council deliberates on the mandate renewal of the humanitarian cross-border mechanism, Resolution 2504, impact the UN-led political process. The simple truth is that there will be no end to the humanitarian crisis in Syria until there is a political solution.
We cannot use the mandate renewal negotiations to shape the political realities on the ground. Our job, above all others, is to uphold the highest humanitarian ideals and do the most good for the vulnerable people around the world. As the political process remains in its early stages, we must ensure humanitarian aid flows to the Syrian people based on their needs.
That means humanitarian aid must not be used as a bargaining chip; millions of people depend on UN assistance across all parts of Syria. Therefore, every member of this Council must ensure every Syrian in need of aid is reached by cross-border and cross-line assistance through the most direct routes. For the millions of women, men, and children in northeast and northwest Syria, those are the most direct routes, UN authorized cross-border points of Bab al Hawa, Bab al Salam, and al-Yaroubia.
The Assad regime has a choice to make, but so does this Council. And I want to say today that we cannot choose, through inaction or gridlock, to starve civilians, deny them shelter, and allow COVID-19 to spread as tactics for reaching a political solution. We cannot turn a blind eye, as Noura said. Supporting the continuation of UN cross-border access to as many people as possible, regardless of who controls the territory, is just as important as supporting Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to achieve a political end to this conflict.