Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Syria

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 19, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. “It’s Like the End of the World,” according to the New York Times. “Breaking Point: Babies Freezing to Death Amid Idlib Push.” Al Jazeera. “These People are Begging the World to Listen to Their Plight.” CNN. “Turkey, Russia Standoff in Syria Leaves Millions of Refugees Caught in Chaos.” The Wall Street Journal.

Nearly one million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in the past 90 days. One million people in 90 days. And so, I ask, how much longer will we tolerate these headlines. The unyielding military campaign of the regime, Russia, Iran, and Hizbollah amounts to a wholesale rejection of UN and Council efforts to facilitate a political process in Syria. Candidly, it is a marvel to me that our Russian colleagues can speak of ceasefires and political solutions in this chamber with a straight face when their own warplanes have struck hospitals and the homes of children.

Indeed, every passing day without a real ceasefire further dims the prospect of a UN-facilitated political solution. The Assad regime is already declaring a military victory and has promised to continue its assault in northwest Syria – this, while children are freezing to death in the fields in Idlib. This Council cannot allow Syria, Russia, and Iran to continue pursuing the subjugation of Syrian civilians, as failure to end the Assad regime’s assault through a UN-brokered ceasefire risks the lives of millions of internally displaced persons, most of them women and children. Further, military actions aim to sideline the Security Council and prevent it from implementing Resolution 2254 – a resolution aimed at just and lasting peace, and endorsed by the Russian Federation.

President Trump and the United States of America strongly desire to see Russia end its support for the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria, and instead commit to a political resolution to the conflict. The outcome of this conflict will bear significantly on the credibility and moral authority of this Council. If we do not abide by the unanimously adopted commitments of Resolution 2254, and if we do not restore the former Idlib de-escalation zone, then what can we be trusted with? What kind of precedent are we setting? It is, at best, a deeply troubling one.

The United States supports the legitimate interests of our NATO ally, Turkey, which has done more than any other country to assist Syrian refugees. We understand its concern about additional refugee flows as a result of ongoing hostilities. We unequivocally reject statements by Russian officials in Moscow that falsely blame Turkey for the escalation of violence in northwest Syria, and there is no doubt that the Assad regime and Russia – not Turkey – are responsible for orchestrating and executing this military offensive.

As our Special Representative for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, stated last week in Ankara, the United States will continue to coordinate with Turkey on diplomatic approaches to restore a ceasefire to the Idlib de-escalation zone and achieve a pullback of Assad regime forces to the 2018 Sochi ceasefire lines. On that note, for too long, we have outsourced the work of establishing ceasefires to Russia and its Astana format. It was not clear before, it is certainly no longer appropriate to trust the Astana group to end the violence. The clearest path we see to an immediate end to violence in northwest Syria is for the UN to take full charge of a new ceasefire initiative. This should be the Secretary-General and UN Special Envoy Pedersen’s most urgent priority.

Let me close by taking a moment to address the men, women, and children in Idlib province. Today you will likely hear the Russian Federation and those officials who claim to represent you dismiss your suffering as insignificant and even imagined. Or perhaps they will acknowledge your suffering, but claim it is unrelated to the campaign of the terror they have waged against you. This is falsification in pure form, and it is a disgrace. You deserve far better from those who claim authority over you. But I want to ask you not to give up hope. Not yet.

In the days ahead, the United States will not spare any effort – including working with allies to isolate the Assad regime diplomatically and economically – to deliver the relief, the resources, and, ultimately, the peace that has kept from you for far too long. The question I ask before the Council today, then: what will tomorrow’s headline be, and what are we going do about it?

Thank you.