Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 30, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President. Good morning. And I just want to say a special thanks to my friend Mark for giving me the latest update and what’s on the ground in Syria. As you well know, I’m always eager to know everything I can from you and I really appreciate the time that you always take to fill us in. As well as Geir, thank you so much. And also, for the Secretary-General’s call for a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, especially, more important, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve all seen how disruptive and deadly this virus can be, which is why there is no place where their calls for mercy and restraint are more urgent than in Syria. We reaffirm our full support for you, Geir, as you launch this effort to implement the ceasefire requested by the Council in Resolution 2254. In order to make good on this timely call, all combatants must freeze ground operations that place civilian populations under threat. The Syrian people need the kind of ceasefire called for in resolution 2254 – not another tactical pause that allows Syrian forces and their Russian and Iranian allies to rest before resuming their campaign of terror in the northwest. Such a pause would only encourage their continued pursuit of a military solution to the conflict.
In meetings with UN officials and Syrian refugees during my trip to Turkey earlier this month, I learned, and personally saw, that the UN must be at the center of any effort to monitor and verify ceasefire initiatives. And on this point, I want to be clear that Special Envoy Pedersen has the authority, granted by Resolution 2254, to monitor existing lines of contact to ensure that ceasefire agreements are honored. Reports have demonstrated that hospitals, clinics, and even healthcare providers have been harmed by the Assad regime and Russian airstrikes. Given the tenuous status of Syria’s healthcare infrastructure and the onset of this global pandemic, the UN’s inter-agency monitoring missions to northwest Syria and an enduring ceasefire are increasingly important. We urge the UN to continue its inter-agency missions to the northwest to help protect the vulnerable Syrians sheltering there.
Just yesterday, Syria reported its first coronavirus death, reinforcing the danger faced by the Syrian people, especially those living in densely the packed camps in Idlib. Amid the growing threat of COVID-19 throughout Syria, the case for expanding UN cross-border aid deliveries and access only grows stronger. For Syrians in the northeast, we must push to see UN cross-border access restored to this area, where, with just two votes, Russia and China blocked the UN’s ability to deliver 41 percent, that’s 41 percent, of medical supplies. The Council must begin deliberations on how to implement the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s February the 25th report, including restoring life-saving, UN cross-border assistance to over 1 million people in the northeast. Because of how rapidly COVID-19 is spreading, these vulnerable Syrians simply cannot wait on Damascus’ arbitrary approvals of cross-line delivery of medical supplies. We must authorize more UN cross-border operations – not fewer. And we must maintain function for all NGO and UN cross-border operations currently going into Syria through the most direct routes.
The United States remains alarmed by the Assad regime’s deliberate siege of the residents of the Rukban IDP camp. The regime has again blocked commercial traffic into the camp, and now even refuses to allow the UN to provide cross-line aid from Damascus. Of course, Rukban is but one clear example of the Assad regime abjectly failing to honor its commitment to the Syrian people. A decade of such failures is precisely why the Trump Administration has no faith in the regime and Russia’s promises to improve cross-line humanitarian access. Council members should take these promises with a large grain of salt. Once Syrian people in need are receiving regular, sustained, and high-quality UN humanitarian aid, the United States will revisit our assessment of regime and Russian promises. But until then, there can be no further reduction of UN cross-border humanitarian access into Syria. Such a step would immediately place millions of lives in jeopardy.
Finally, as we respond to COVID-19, I want to reiterate Secretary Pompeo’s call regarding thousands of civilians, including U.S. citizens, being held arbitrarily in overcrowded regime detention centers. It is past time for the Assad regime to take concrete steps to protect these individuals, and to alter the inhumane conditions under which they are being held. The Trump Administration demands the immediate release of all civilians and political prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained, including women, children, and the elderly.