Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
June 2, 2022
AMBASSADOR JEFFRY L. FLAKE: (In progress) or goods to get across the border. So glad to have Linda Thomas-Greenfield here. We go way back to our work when she was Assistant Secretary for Africa and I chaired the Africa subcommittee in the Senate. So, so happy to have her here and to have her advocacy to keep these programs, these vital programs, going. So thank you for being here.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you so much, Ambassador. It’s great to see you here. It’s great to know that this mission is being led by you. And I know that all of you will have a point to – a time to get to know the ambassador. He’s really extraordinary. He’s extraordinarily committed, and I think we will see the impact that he will have on our relationships here in Turkey.
I also want to join the ambassador in thanking the Turkish Government. You and the people of Turkey have been extraordinarily gracious hosts – not just to me on my one-day trip, but you’re gracious hosts year round to the millions of refugees you host here in this country. And it goes without saying that none of us would be able to do our work without the government’s efforts to help the Syrian people as well as others.
And then good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for being here. I’m grateful to have an opportunity to share with you some of the reflections from my visit here to Turkey and down to Bab al-Hawa and the Syrian border these past two days. It’s been really an extraordinary visit, and you know I was here last year and I have to tell you that each time I come, I learned something new.
This morning I had the opportunity to once again visit the UN World Food Program’s transshipment center, where I saw firsthand, as you did, the food, the medicine, other critical supplies that millions of Syrians rely on, and I received a briefing on the flow of humanitarian aid across the border into Syria. I also had the opportunity to spend time with humanitarian workers and UN and NGO staff on the front lines of this effort. And yesterday I had an extraordinary opportunity to meet a group of heroes, the White Helmets, as well as with Syrian refugees here in Turkey.
The stories I heard from these refugees are at the heart of everything that we do here because we know that this is not just about programs, it’s about people. One person told me, “I made this trip because the United States – because we know that the United States remains committed to us.” And I made sure I shared with them that I made this trip because the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to supporting the humanitarian needs of the displaced civilians who remain in Syria and refugees who fled into neighboring countries, like Turkey.
That’s why last month, as you heard, in Brussels, I announced the U.S. will provide over 800 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Syria. But as I’ve said many times, no amount of assistance will meet the moment if we can’t reach those in need. And in fact, the humanitarian needs are greater than they’ve ever been before. That’s what makes this UN-authorized crossing such a lifeline to millions of Syrians.
Last year, the UN delivered, on average, a thousand truckloads of assistance every single month thanks to this crossing that we just visited. And before July 10th of this year, the Security Council must once again unanimously vote to ensure humanitarian aid can continue to flow across the border and meet the needs of the vulnerable people of Syria.
So I look forward to returning to New York tonight and starting the process of briefing my colleagues about what I have seen in terms of the cross-border mechanism and that it is working and it’s saving lives. I just learned moments ago that we’ve heard that the Syrian Government sees this as a compromise to their sovereignty, and I just learned that the Syrian Government receives every single day notifications of what is crossing the border, when it’s crossing the border, and so they’ve very engaged in this process. They know what we’re doing. The monitoring mechanism here, I think, remains one of the strongest that I have ever seen anywhere in the world. And we’ve tried to make some progress on cross-line deliveries and early recovery projects as well, but nothing can replace what we see happening here at this border.
Finally, our focus on the humanitarian conditions facing Syria is one part of a broader policy aimed at stabilizing the situation on the ground, alleviating suffering, and addressing security threats. These efforts have helped to achieve a comparative reduction in violence, which is preventing even more harm to innocent people and we hope will ultimately help to create a foundation for meaningful negotiations. And this is why the U.S. would strongly oppose any military escalation in Syria that would upend ceasefire lines and cause further destabilization. It is only through diplomacy and dialogue that we can achieve a lasting and just end to the conflict.
And with that, I look forward to taking some of your questions.
MS. OLIVIA DALTON: Thanks, Ambassador. We’re going to go first to AA. Okay, AFP? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you think that Russia will eventually allow the UN resolution to be – will vote eventually for the resolution to be renewed? And what will happen if it’s not the case?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It is our hope that the Russians will support this resolution. They did last year. They know the importance of this program, that it is feeding millions of people and keeping millions of people alive in Syria, and the Syrian Government knows how important this is. So I hope that they join us in pressing the Russians to vote for this resolution for the extension of this border crossing.
What will happen if this resolution is not passed? Millions of people in Syria will suffer. You saw the operation here. The amount of food that is going across the border, the amount of support that is being provided – those people will suffer without this mechanism. We will continue to find ways to provide support to the Syrian people if the unfortunate situation happens where the border is forced to close. I’ve heard from the Turkish Government that Turkish NGOs who are not part of the UN program also provide trucks that provide assistance to the Syrian people. But I don’t think any organization can meet the standard and the quantity of food that is being brought across the border through this mechanism.
QUESTION: But they already suffer, so what do you mean by suffer? Will there be some starvation or what?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We know that the situation is already dire there, that people are suffering now. We saw that UNICEF is providing therapeutic food to babies. So that means that people are already suffering. Without this – imagine without that therapeutic food, babies will die. So we have to extend this border crossing. We have to continue to provide this assistance.
QUESTION: How worried are you about the Turkish operation in northern Syria that’s beginning, and did that change at all your trip here?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It doesn’t change the purpose of my trip. The purpose of my trip is to update on the situation of humanitarian assistance crossing the border and to go back to New York and use every lever I have possible to push for the extension of the resolution. We have engaged with the Turkish Government, as you know. We have indicated our opposition to any decision to take military action on the Syrian side of the border. We think that nothing should be done to break the ceasefire lines that have already been established. And if any efforts are made on that front, it’s going to increase the suffering, it’s going to increase the number of people who are displaced, and possibly even the number of people who may try to cross the border into Turkey.
QUESTION: Syrian refugees in Turkey have already put such a strain on the government economically, politically. I’m wondering what level of confidence you have that the government’s support for refugees will continue both for those who are already in Turkey and those who may have to come as a result of the border crossing if it closes.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The support that Syrian refugees have received here has been extraordinary. Yesterday I actually saw two Syrian-run very successful businesses that are employing Syrian refugees here. So all refugees are not putting pressure on the government, but the hospitality here, the open door here, the warm welcome, is something that refugees appreciate, and we certainly appreciate, and that’s why we continue to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees here in Turkey so that we can alleviate some of the pressure that is on the Turkish Government to support refugees.
We and UNHCR have encouraged the Turkish Government to continue to be a hospitable and welcoming place for refugees, and we will continue to work with the government to ensure that that is possible in the future.
MS. DALTON: Thank you, all.