Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Political and Humanitarian Situations in Syria

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July 24, 2023

Thank you, Madam President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Mr. Rajasingham, for your briefings today.

Over the past month, this Council has met several times on this issue. And we have done so because the humanitarian needs in Syria are so great, because the stakes are so high.

As we all know, the penholders, Brazil and Switzerland, made every effort to reach a compromise resolution on cross-border assistance. But one permanent member stood in the way of Council action.

Let’s be clear here: Russia is fully responsible for the lapse in UN cross-border deliveries of humanitarian assistance through Bab Al-Hawa. Russia refused to negotiate in good faith. And its veto was yet another reminder that Russia has little or no regard for the needs of vulnerable people. Just today, reports indicate that Russia carried out another round of attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure.

Russia continues to wage war on the world’s food supply, which is having devastating consequences, especially for people in Syria and in countries across the Middle East and Africa.

Colleagues, the Assad regime’s announcement to allow UN aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa acknowledges the need for cross-border assistance. But it includes unacceptable restrictions – restrictions that would hinder relief and put humanitarians, including UN personnel, at risk. And I note that their opening of Bab al-Salam and al-Rai did not include such restrictions.

Additionally, the regime’s permission is only for six months, half the minimally necessary period recommended by the Secretary-General.

As Under-Secretary-General Griffiths continues to engage the Assad regime on the parameters of future UN operations, we must remember that the regime has a record of impeding UN humanitarian activities in Syria. We’ve seen that time and time again for more than a decade.

The unacceptable conditions and demands contained in the July 13 note verbale are consistent with that troubling record. And for this reason, the United States has joined other major donors in making clear that any cross-border access arrangement must include five key elements:

First: It must preserve the independence of operations. The UN should be allowed to engage with all parties on the ground, consistent with how it delivers assistance around the world.

Second: It must maintain the “Whole of Syria” response architecture. The UN should be able to continue to operate response hubs outside regime-held areas. And the regime should not interfere with access arrangements between the UN and local authorities in non-regime-held areas.

Third: Access should be granted for as long as possible, and must not lapse in the middle of winter. Guaranteed access is essential to providing the predictability and the efficiency needed by donors, UN partners, and the Syrian people. Given the overwhelming and persistent humanitarian needs in northwest Syria, there is no justification for short-term, ad hoc access guarantees.

Fourth: Assistance delivery must remain consistent with humanitarian principles. The UN should maintain its ability to determine assistance allocation, including design and targeting, based solely on needs and consistent with the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

Fifth: Any arrangement must maintain the cross-border monitoring operation originally established under Resolution 2165 and avoid new reporting requirements for local partners or beneficiaries.

All five of these elements are critical. They will bolster trust among donor nations and implementing partners, reaffirm that UN operations will be guided only by humanitarian principles, maintain and strengthen protections for partners’ and donors’ funding, and give humanitarian workers the predictability they need to save lives.

We appreciate Under-Secretary-General Griffiths’ commitment to keeping the Council and donors apprised of the progress of his talks with the regime, and we are prepared for the Council to review any understanding he reaches to ensure it contains these elements. Anything less than what I have outlined today would necessitate this Council to seek a mandate to reauthorize the cross-border mechanism.

Colleagues, more than 62,000 trucks full of lifesaving aid – food and water and medicine and other essentials – have crossed into Syria since the Council unanimously supported Resolution 2165 in 2014.

But today, the humanitarian crisis has never been more dire. Twelve years of war and this year’s earthquakes have pushed the Syrian people to the brink. The Syrian people are crying out for our support and, more than anything, for peace.

The United States is deeply saddened, but not surprised, by Special Envoy Pedersen’s briefing which made clear that the political situation in Syria remains bleak. Make no mistake: The blame rests on Russia and the Assad regime.

Russia and the regime have put the Constitutional Committee on ice. They have rebuffed Special Envoy Pedersen’s efforts to launch a step-for-step process. And they have opposed or obstructed most efforts to advance other aspects of Resolution 2254, including by voting against the General Assembly’s decision to create a new apolitical mechanism to address the fate of detainees and disappeared persons.

The bottom line is this: Given Syria’s shameful record, the Council cannot trust the Assad regime to “do the right thing” on humanitarian access. The Council must remain deeply engaged on humanitarian matters in Syria. The United States is committed to doing just that. Special Envoy Pedersen asked us to stand up and meet the needs of the Syrian people, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. We will never waver in our support for the needs of the Syrian people.

Thank you, Madam President.

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