Thank you, Mr. President.
At the outset, the United States is compelled by the urgency of the humanitarian conditions in the Rukban camp to reiterate in the strongest terms our call on the Assad regime and the Russian Federation to permit deliveries of UN assistance from Damascus and to lift its restrictions on commercial routes to the encampment immediately.
The last UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy delivery reached the camp in February. People are starving. Special Envoy Pedersen, we count on your assistance to secure the approvals from Damascus and Moscow as soon as possible. A third convoy to Rukban could represent a gesture by Damascus and its allies of goodwill and seriousness toward the UN’s efforts to re-launch the political process.
Unfortunately, and despite the Special Envoy’s intense diplomacy, the political process remains stalled by the Russian Federation and its supporters as evidenced by the latest round of Astana/Nur-Sultan meetings on April 25-26.
Once again, the so-called “Astana track” has failed to produce tangible steps toward securing serious commitments to advance the political process, release of civilian detainees, approval of a humanitarian convoy to deliver food and medicine to thousands of starving people in Rukban, or a nationwide ceasefire.
Mr. President, the Russian Federation and the Assad regime have consistently sought to stall the UN’s efforts to launch a credible political process. The Assad regime seems determined to end the conflict by waging war on the Syrian people rather than by implementing principled political reform.
The Security Council and the international community are united, and must remain united, in our recognition of the UN-led political process in Geneva as the sole, legitimate venue for achieving a lasting, inclusive, credible political solution to the conflict. This is why on May 3, the United States and our Syria Small Group partners, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, will convene in Geneva for consultations with the Special Envoy on the way forward for implementing Resolution 2254.
Mr. President, the United States also continues to support Special Envoy Pedersen’s focus on constitutional reform. We commend the Special Envoy and the Syrian opposition for their efforts to ensure that any committee formed to draft a new constitution be balanced and credible.
The United States’ position on the constitutional committee is clear. First, the committee, if formed, would only represent a symbolic first step toward achieving the political solution envisioned in Resolution 2254, and could potentially serve as a confidence-building measure upon which the parties could secure progress on the other benchmarks. No matter how close the parties may be to agreement on a constitutional committee, the United States expects the UN’s diplomatic efforts to continue on the UN’s other baskets: detainees and missing persons, counterterrorism, elections, and the creation of a safe, calm neutral environment.
The United States insists that the Syrian opposition and the UN be in agreement on the membership and procedural elements of the constitutional committee before it is formally established. This is the only way to ensure its credibility and its legitimacy.
Mr. President, the political transition outlined in Resolution 2254 cannot succeed as long as violence remains an ever-present threat in northern Syria. The United States reiterates its calls on Russia and the Assad regime to halt their recent military escalation in Idlib province and uphold the September 2018 Russian-Turkish ceasefire.
Despite Russia’s claim to be targeting terrorists, since February these operations have killed more than 200 civilians and have targeted first responders as they attempted to save lives on the ground. More than 120,000 people have fled their homes, moving closer to the Turkish border, in order to seek safety. This must end.
In northeast Syria, the United States is working hard to guarantee the security of our NATO ally Turkey while also securing the enduring defeat of ISIS. It is vital that security conditions remain stable in order to cement our hard-won gains and ensure that ISIS is not able to regain momentum or control of territory.
Finally, Mr. President, progress on the release of civilian detainees and missing persons is a vital component to achieving a political solution under Resolution 2254. However, the token prisoner swaps between the Assad regime and Syrian opposition groups, brokered by the so-called “Astana Guarantors,” are not credible, significantly meaningful steps toward building the trust and confidence necessary to achieve a political solution.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children remain imprisoned without cause, and the regime continues to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and execute detainees.
Mr. President, the United States believes the UN is the only appropriate arbiter to ensure progress on the release of detainees and missing persons from the Assad regime’s prisons.
I thank you for your attention.