Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Syria (via VTC)

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 20, 2021


Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. This meeting does mark my final opportunity to address this Council as the Permanent Representative of the United States of America.

When I assumed this position in September of 2019, I vowed to speak in this body with moral clarity, to always have in mind those who could not be present themselves. Families fleeing the abominable Maduro regime. Rohingya communities desperate for a return to normalcy. South Sudanese women exhausted by the inaction of political leaders.

And the besieged people of Syria. Bombed, starved, displaced, and tormented by the Assad regime and its supporters. That this body has failed to do more to address the needs of the Syrian people, and promote real, positive action toward a peaceful resolution to this crisis is scandalous.

The United States has worked tirelessly with partners to push for a change in the political dynamics that afflict this Council and continue to deny the Syrian people a path toward peace, stability, and hope. This Council is failing millions of civilians of Syria, not just today but for more than a decade. It is appalling. As ambassadors, we serve our respective countries, however, we have the responsibility to be selfless public servants who work to improve the lives of people around the world.

Mark Lowcock, Geir Pedersen – my sincere gratitude for your untiring efforts and those of your respective teams. You have, and you will continue to have, the full support of the United States for your work to alleviate suffering and to bring this conflict to a peaceful, negotiated solution.

The United States welcomes plans for the convening of the fifth round of the Constitutional Committee next week in Geneva. The important work of drafting a new constitution has been delayed for far too long. The Assad regime must meaningfully participate in the Committee’s work to deliver a constitution that represents the entirety of the Syrian people.

We also underscore Special Envoy Pedersen’s authority to take measures he deems appropriate to facilitate the parties’ efforts to begin work on a new constitution itself.

We are under no illusions here. It is clear that the Assad regime is deliberately stalling the Committee’s progress to distract the international community as the regime prepares to carry out a sham presidential election this year.

Any such election would be illegitimate. The vast majority of the international community and reputable NGOs agree that the current elections framework in the 2012 Syrian Constitution does not meet the most basic international standards.

The U.S. will not recognize the elections as legitimate per Resolution 2254, a policy shared by nations on this call. Syria must undertake steps, as unanimously agreed in Resolution 2254, to enable the participation of refugees, internally displaced persons, and the diaspora in any Syrian elections that occur pursuant to a new constitution.

Clearly, the Assad regime hopes to use the 2021 Syrian presidential elections to further the false narrative that the Assad regime has participated constructively in the political process per Resolution 2254, that Assad’s rule is legitimate, and that reconstruction and normalization should follow. This could not be further from the truth.

This cynical ploy ignores the tragic realities faced by millions of Syrians who have been uprooted from their homes, by the families whose loved ones remain arbitrarily detained and are missing, and by the civilians killed and injured by the regime and its craven allies’ barbaric attacks. The United States will withhold reconstruction funding until the UN’s political process is complete.

The constitutional committee is only one aspect of the necessary political steps to be taken under Resolution 2254, and we urge the Special Envoy to redouble efforts to advance progress in the other aspects of the political file. As many as 130,000 Syrians remain missing after being arbitrarily detained by the regime and continue to suffer inhumane conditions without access to adequate health care.

We condemn the Assad regime’s systematic campaign of arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners. There must be an immediate and serious effort led by the Special Envoy to secure the immediate release of arbitrarily detained persons held by the Assad regime, to provide information on missing persons to their families, and allow humanitarian access to detention facilities. The Syrian people should not have to wait one more day for action on the release of detainees and missing persons.

Millions of Syrians have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and many millions remain internally displaced since the beginning of the
conflict. We thank Syria’s neighbors for their incredible generosity.

I had the great privilege of meeting with the Syrian refugees in Turkey. These are real people – not just numbers that we repeat each month in this Council. I recall meeting the brave, selfless members of the White Helmets – Ammar, Isameel, Abdulhadi, Maisaa, Afnan.

They told me of the despair and suffering inside Syria. The children without adequate food, the pregnant women without access to healthcare, and the communities living in terror. They pleaded for the world to wake up to the horrors of this conflict and take action to restore Syria to a place of peace.

And I must say, that we have to count on people – the honest press – like Sena Alkan at CNN Turkey, to continue to be the voice of refugees, and to continue to highlight what Turkey has done in taking in the Syrian refugees.

And each month our Russian colleagues tell us a very different story to this body – a story breathtaking in its dishonesty and cynicism.

To all those struggling to survive the reality in Syria, displaced by the murderous regime, and disregarded by its allies, the United States says this: We are with you.

Last March, I visited the Bab al-Hawa crossing to see the UN’s humanitarian operation in action. From the points along the Turkish border you can see people – internally displaced from their homes, their lives uprooted – living in informal camps huddled against the fence that separates Turkish soil from Syria. These are the people, the majority of whom are women and children, who have entrusted us in this Council to keep them safe – to keep them alive.

When Resolution 2533 is up for renewal in July, I urge you not to abandon the Syrian people. I urge you to do everything in your power to keep this indispensable border crossing, Bab al-Hawa, authorized for UN deliveries of food, shelter, and medical supplies to millions of Syrians. Failure to renew this mandate sends a signal the Council is not on the side of the Syrian people, but rather supporting a regime that has terrorized and systemically starved its people in the dogged pursuit of its own power.

The U.S. looks forward to working closely with the new penholders, Ireland and Norway, and every member of this Council later this year to renew Resolution 2533. Anything short would be an abdication of our responsibilities.

The situation in Rukban continues to demand the attention of this Council. It has now been 16 months since the Assad regime allowed the last humanitarian delivery to Rukban. Let me repeat that – 16 months. The Assad regime and Russia must allow unhindered humanitarian access to the camp, including UN humanitarian delivery convoys. This kind of politicizing and weaponizing of aid should outrage the Council and trigger immediate action to deliver aid to this community now.

My time, as the country’s representative to this body, comes to its close. There is nothing more certain that I have learned in time: to everything there is a season. For me it concludes as it began, with still the strongest conviction that the heart of all government is stewardship: not to rule, but to serve. That it is as agents and delegates of the people that we hold what offices we fill; and it is by our fidelity to the principles of freedom and democracy, upon which the security and welfare of all our citizens are secured, that we will be measured.

We are surely – as the world most always is, in turbulent times – this body grew out of an historic turbulence. The anxieties flowing from a pandemic very likely, and only naturally, may detract somewhat from the mindfulness of the causes all governments must serve, and the values all governments must cherish.

Of those, again I say, freedom and democracy are cardinal. That, as the wisest of all our presidents reminded my nation, in another period of terrible turbulence, that both are always being tested or challenged. Lincoln is a star in the firmament, and he was surely never shone more brightly that when, in the briefest of all presidential addresses, he gave voice to the hope and prayer that “government by the people, for the people and of the people” should not “perish from the earth.”

Freedom and democracy are always under test. Which is why this body exists. And from my personal viewpoint, it has been an incredible honor to serve here, and to serve my country by doing so.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve with the finest club, I believe, in the world. And I am forever grateful and will forever be watching and cheering you from the sideline, and I just know that you will continue to make differences for people who do not have a voice.

Thank you.