Ambassador Power: Hey everybody. As you know, the Council just received a harrowing update on the situation in Syria and on the lack of progress in implementing the resolution on humanitarian access and assistance. It will hardly be news to you, but it’s worth stating simply and unequivocally: the Syrian government has utterly failed to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2139.
Valerie Amos’s briefing today reaffirmed what the UN report itself made abundantly clear with tremendous detail – namely, that the Syrian government remains the biggest obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The Assad regime’s murderous appetite for deploying artillery, barrel bombs and air strikes against civilians in Syria – despite this Council’s specific call that these types of attacks stop – is the number one factor driving displacement and the broader humanitarian crisis.
A month ago, this Council spoke with one voice – unified in the shared conviction that all parties must end all forms of violence, lift all sieges, allow for the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance, and cease depriving civilians of life-saving food and medicine. Yet the Syrian government continues to besiege 175,000 civilians. It has allowed only a trickle of assistance on a case-by-case basis to the 3.5 million people struggling in hard-to-reach areas, a figure that has increased by an alarming 1 million since the beginning of this year. And it is the sole reason for the lack of progress in cross-border assistance. Cross-border assistance would allow the UN and its partners access to almost 4 million people. Additional crossing points for the UN and humanitarian partners along the Turkish border would open access to 3.35 million people in Aleppo and Idlib governates. And crossings from Jordan would mean life-saving aid to hundreds of thousands more.
What we see from the Syrian government instead – something the UN report has made clear – is that it continues to use administrative snares to cripple UN field missions; security officials repeatedly hold up convoys at checkpoints, postpone access dates, and at least in one instance outright refused the delivery of medical supplies to areas that were not under government control. Government officials continually remove medical supplies from convoys, and in one recent instance did so claiming there were no functioning health facilities at the convoy’s destination, which was untrue.
The Assad regime’s predations and bureaucratic stalling contrast with the moderate opposition’s avowal to help. You’re aware from the report that the Coalition President Jarba pledged the compliance of both the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Free Syrian Army to the resolution. Further, the Dar’a military council issued a statement earlier this month vowing to facilitate humanitarian missions in the area. The moderate opposition has, in fact, cooperated in facilitating aid deliveries, including in Aleppo and Idlib, and the United States will continue to ask them to do more.
In the coming days, we’ll be working with our Council colleagues on what further steps are available to ensure compliance with the resolution’s provisions. We are obliged to pursue action not just by the seriousness with which we approach our Security Council mandate and the commitments we make, but also, of course, out of a basic sense of decency.
Thank you. And I’d be happy to take a couple questions.
Reporter: Thank you. Ambassador, as you said and Ms. Amos said, this report was bleak: barrel bombs, noncompliance by the Syrian government. You said next steps and you’ll talk about it – but what are you recommending for next steps, to make it more robust?
Ambassador Power: Well – again, this is a consultation, there’s nothing that I can do and that we can do unilaterally to make the Council do what we want. And so we are engaging in consultations, we’ve begun those consultations as soon as we received the report. I think you heard from the Council president the overwhelming reaction to the report: the grave disappointment; the recognition that hopes were raised in Syria, among the Syrian people, by the Council coming together in the way we finally did after three years; and the need to follow through on the commitments that we made. So I can’t make any commitments. It’s a negotiation.
Reporter: Ambassador, you said that it was clear from the briefing that the government is the primary obstacle to the delivery of aid and that the moderate opposition is in fact cooperating. Was this the – was this the impression Ms. Amos gave in her briefing today? I mean, is this your interpretation or is this one that she would agree with? I wanted to ask her this but she left before I could get the question.
Ambassador Power: Yeah, well, I would urge you to follow up with her because I’m not going to characterize her view. I will say that if you just simply take the issue of cross border access, where the UN is very clear – Amos was very clear and is always very clear – that 3.5 million people can be reached just by opening – not opening; just by giving consent, literally with a stroke of a pen, allowing the UN to use border checkpoints; all of them. Just that alone gives you some indication of how much responsibility the government bears, because it is the government alone that is denying the UN access across these border checkpoints, where the UN is poised and ready, in some cases with trucks idling, like around the Yarba crossing point. So if you just take that issue -- or if you take besieged areas, where 175,000 people, again, very explicitly in government besieged areas and where the government has not heeded either OCHA’s will or now the will of the Security Council – I think it gives you some sense of the overwhelming responsibility, just on statistical grounds.
Reporter: Ambassador, we of course witnessed how it’s been difficult negotiating with the Russian’s on the Syria issue for years now. Have things becomes worse inside the Council in terms of resolving the Syrian conflict, and maybe it’s spilling into other issues that are in front of you?
Ambassador Power: Well, as you point out, I mean, this is an issue that has generated three vetoes over the life of what should have been a crisis that brought the entire international community together with a shared desire to enforce peace and security. So, it is no secret that we – despite our shared interests in preventing terrorism, our shared commitments to humanitarian assistance – our perspectives on this issue have been deeply divergent for a long time.
Having said that, Russia has affixed its name and its credibility both to the Syrian chemical weapons resolution, where we continue to work together to push the Syrian regime to meet its obligations -- its legal obligations, under 2118 – and, you know, just over a month ago it affixed its name, raised its hand, on the first-ever humanitarian resolution in the life of the conflict. And so, on the basis of that discussion, I don’t have any way of, you know, predicting yet where we’re going to get with Russia. But they’re reading the same report that we’re reading. And we hope that their words and the commitments that they’ve made mean something in this context.
Reporter: So this exchange between you and Ambassador Churkin, who threatened that if you continue in this course this will affect the cooperation between Russia and the United States – this is one. Have you seen any sign of this? And would you seek another path, outside the Security Council, regarding the situation in Syria? Because we learned that inside this session Ambassador Churkin spent a lot of time defending the Syrian regime.
Ambassador Power: Well, again, without speaking to the contents of a closed consultation and particular member states’ positions in that consultation, what I will say is – just on the basis of what gets done here at the stakeout – that’s not a new phenomenon, the phenomenon that you’ve described. I mean, Russia and the Syrian regime have worked together very closely throughout this conflict. This is something that we have sought to leverage on chemical weapons and on humanitarian access. And, you know, I think you’ve seen Russia work behind the scenes and try to take advantage of that relationship to push for things that advance their interests, as they seen them.
Again, we are continuing to cooperate on a whole host of issues. We just authorized the renewal of the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have achieved a very substantial resolution on Libya and the threats to Libya’s oil supplies – and that’s in the midst of this crisis. And, again, while it’s too soon to tell where we’re going to get on the further steps, we expect that the fact that Russia signed on to this resolution – 2139 – means that they intended for that resolution to be implemented.
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