Remarks by Ambassador Robert Wood, Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria

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December 21, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen and Director Doughten for your sobering briefings.

As 2023 comes to a close, the Syrian political process remains frustratingly blocked, and the Syrian people are suffering greatly. This Council continues to rightly discuss the political and humanitarian files each month, yet we have few results to show for our work. For more than 12 years, the Assad regime has waged a brutal war against the Syrian people. On top of that, Syrians are still reeling from the devastating impacts of February’s earthquakes. Yet, rather than engage in a political process, in the last few months, the Assad regime has stepped up its attacks on its own people in the northwest of Syria.

We all know the responsibility for this war lies at the feet of the Assad regime. The searing images and accounts of the regime’s chemical weapon attacks on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus will never fade from our conscience. Nor will we forget the widespread shelling in Homs, massacres in Aleppo, and the present-day bombardment that is killing civilians in Idlib.

Just two days ago, the General Assembly voted on a U.S.-co-facilitated resolution on the human rights situation in Syria that reminded the world of the abuses the regime wants us to forget: the use of chemical weapons, extrajudicial killings, torture and other ill-treatment, unjust detentions, enforced disappearances, and gender-based violence.

We join the majority of UN Member States in reiterating the call for the Syrian regime to immediately release all those arbitrarily held and to provide information about the tens of thousands who are missing.

We are alarmed by the reports that violence has reached its worst level since 2019. The hundreds of civilian deaths caused by the regime and Russian offensive in Idlib are deeply concerning. The destruction they have caused to infrastructure and the threats they pose to humanitarian operations put hundreds of thousands of people at risk during the cold winter months.

While we welcome the three-month extension of the UN’s arrangement with the regime for access through Bab Al Salaam and Al Rai crossings to access areas in need in northwest Syria, we also underscore that this piecemeal approach does not fully meet the urgent humanitarian need.

We continue to underscore the importance of predictable, sustainable access, particularly to improve efficiencies and allow for sufficient staffing and planning. We note that discussions between the UN and the regime regarding renewed cross-border access through the crucial crossing at Bab Al Hawa continue. We support Under-Secretary-Griffiths’ efforts in this regard and remain hopeful for a positive outcome.

As Brazil prepares to conclude its Council term, we want to acknowledge the close collaboration of the humanitarian penholders Brazil and Switzerland to focus the Council’s work on the needs of the Syrian people, and we look forward to continued reporting to the Council and close attention to this file.

As we appeal for calm in Syria, we also reiterate our condemnation of attacks by Iranian-aligned militia groups on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria. The United States has responded in self-defense, and we reiterate that these attacks by Iranian-aligned groups must stop.

Special Envoy Pedersen, we share your concerns about regional spillover. It is in these moments that we must persevere and remain committed to achieving a Syrian-focused and Syrian-led solution to the conflict in line with Resolution 2254, the only viable roadmap for a lasting solution to the conflict. More than eight years have passed since this Council unanimously adopted that resolution. It is incumbent on all countries seated at this table to do their part and help implement all aspects of this resolution. The Syrian people have been waiting far too long. We support the Special Envoy’s efforts to advance the political process and to reconvene the Constitutional Committee as soon as possible.

The United States is closely following the popular protests in Suwayda, just as we did when pro-democracy demonstrations first sprung up in the nearby city of Dara’a in 2011.

The Syrian people deserve the future for which they have fought so hard, including respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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