Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 6, 2021
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good afternoon, everyone. Just want to speak briefly.
Last month at the Turkish-Syrian border, I saw with my own eyes the scale of human suffering among Syrian refugees and the internally displaced. And I spoke to Syrians who had experienced devastating trauma over more than a decade of conflict.
They told me bluntly that Bab al-Hawa is a literal lifeline. Millions rely on the thousand trucks that cross the border every single month with food, with water, with medicine, and other things needed to survive. Without Bab al-Hawa, severely malnourished children in Idlib may very well face famine.
We have four days – just four days – left before the cross-border access officially expires, risking millions of lives. And today, I once again urged the Security Council to renew and expand this humanitarian access for 12 months now. Anything – anything less than 12 months could severely complicate the ability of NGOs and the UN to reliably deliver aid while managing a very lengthy and complicated procurement process.
We have heard repeatedly and with increasing urgency from the UN Secretary-General and from the UN Agencies, as well as humanitarian organizations operating on the ground – there is no substitute for the UN cross-border mechanisms. Cross-line aid alone cannot meet the needs of the Syrians – needs that have only risen in the past year with COVID. That’s why the United States supports all modalities of humanitarian aid in Syria. Cross-border as well as cross-line.
We have offered to support expanding cross-line aid, and we will continue to do so in good faith. In fact, we have put forward a serious and credible proposal to expand humanitarian assistance across Syria, – including cross-line and cross-border, including urgent COVID relief – to meet the urgent needs of the Syrian people.
This is a moment. It’s a moment for serious humanitarian initiatives, and we look forward to work with all of the members of the Council on the way forward. But what we need is full, safe, unhindered humanitarian access. We need this without delay. Full access for humanitarian personnel and medical personnel, for their equipment, transport and supplies, to facilitate COVID-19 vaccines.
The UN Security Council should not delay the deployment of COVID vaccines in northeast and northwest Syria. In the midst of a pandemic, how can we possibly justify closing a reliable delivery route for vaccines? How can we justify cutting off innocent children – or anyone for that matter – from food, from clean water, and from medicine? And the answer to this is simple: We can’t. We must renew this mandate.
This afternoon, Member States from outside the Council are hosting a UN side event, featuring humanitarian experts, to underscore just how much children and women rely on cross-border aid. And I look forward to hearing from them and sharing their perspectives with the Council when we meet later this week on this subject.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.
QUESTION: Ambassador, James Bays from Al Jazeera. We just heard from your Chinese colleague who said it’s not just about cross-border, and then he mentioned sanctions. Are you prepared to offer any concession on sanctions in return for keeping the cross-border route open?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is not a discussion about sanctions. It’s a question of the humanitarian needs. The sanctions that we have are targeted toward the Assad regime. And we have made every effort – and quite successfully – to provide options for getting assistance, even into the areas that, where people are in areas held by the Assad regime. Our humanitarian assistance is for all Syrians throughout the country, and we’re ensuring that people in the regime-held areas also get the assistance that we’re providing to areas outside of the regime-held areas.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. My name is Ibtisam Azem from the Daily Arabic al-Araby al-Jadeed Newspaper. I have a follow-up on what you said regarding the cross-line. You said you offered to expand the cross-line aid. Could you please elaborate on that? And does that, if the cross-border, if you don’t have three crossings, would that offer for the cross-line be off the table? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We only have one crossing now. Cross-line has always been available. What we know is that we have had difficulty getting approval from the Assad regime to move some of the materials cross-line. We want to work with members of the Council to ensure that cross-line is available. But cross-line is not – and I think I have to be clear on that – it is not a substitute for cross-border. We are providing significant amounts of assistance cross-border. That assistance is going directly to the people in need. The cross-line assistance is always there; it is in the context and the control of the Syrian government. The Turkish government has also indicated that they are working to ensure that cross-line operations work, but we know that it cannot duplicate a substitute for what we’re able to provide cross-border.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador. You sought three border crossings; the resolution has two. The Russians, last year, insisted that that be down to only one. And this year the ambassador has indicated that they really don’t want any cross-border deliveries. What is your assessment of what Russia – not what they should accept – but what they might accept from going to these closed meetings.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for the Russians; I can only speak for what we’re asking for. And what we ask for, and what we continue to support, is three border crossings. But we cannot accept less than what we have today, and that’s one border crossing for 12 months that’s providing support for millions of Syrians. And so, we will continue to push for the maximum, but we will not – we can’t accept less than what we have now. But we will continue to work to help, to support cross-line mechanisms, as well as increase the capacity of cross-border. That’s where we’re starting and, hopefully, we will be able to achieve some success.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow up. If – what would the repercussions be if the Russians, or the Russians and the Chinese, vetoed even a single crossing?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think the repercussions are obvious: people will starve to death. Right now, Bab al-Hawa is a lifeline to millions of people living on the other side of the border. If that border crossing is closed, we know what the consequences are, and we have to do everything possible to ensure that that doesn’t happen.