First, I do want to thank Mr. Ging and Mr. de Mistura for giving us the latest information about the dire situation in Idlib. I also want to welcome the statement of grave concern about Idlib that the Council’s 10 elected members delivered yesterday.
The Assad regime and its enablers, Russia and Iran, have a playbook for this war. First, they surround a civilian area. Next, they make the preposterous claim that everyone in the area is a terrorist, so every man, woman, and child becomes a target. Then comes the “starve and surrender” campaign, where they keep attacking until the people no longer have food, clean water, or shelter. It’s a playbook of death. The Assad regime has spent the last seven years refining it with Russia and Iran’s help.
This has happened so many times before. In July, it was Dara’a and the southwest of Syria, where the regime trapped and besieged civilians. In February, it was eastern Ghouta. The year before, it was eastern Aleppo. Before that, places like Madaya and Hama.
In the process, the Assad regime has left behind a country of rubble. The atrocities committed by Assad will be a permanent stain on history and a black mark for this Council – which was blocked over and over by Russia from taking action to help.
Now, an offensive against Idlib is starting. Despite the clear warnings of the President of the United States and other world leaders, airstrikes by Russia and the regime have already begun against civilian areas. The United States has been very clear, with Russia and with the broader international community: we consider any assault on Idlib to be a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Syria. If Assad, Russia, and Iran continue, the consequences will be dire.
We heard earlier that 3 million people are at risk in Idlib – 99 percent innocent civilians. To put that in perspective, that is 7.5 times the number of people that the Assad regime put under siege in eastern Ghouta. It’s nearly 11 times the number of people the Assad regime trapped in eastern Aleppo. At the time, we said the level of civilian suffering was unbearable. If you can even imagine, Idlib would be even worse.
The Assad regime must halt its offensive. Russia and Iran, as countries with influence over the regime, must stop this catastrophe. It is in their power to do so.
Our Russian colleagues claim they seek a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Yet they do nothing to help us get there. If they support an offensive in Idlib, the world will know where Russia really stands when it comes to supporting peace talks.
The United States is deeply concerned about the presence of terrorists in Idlib. There are many ways to target these groups effectively without causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
But when Russia and the Assad regime say they want to counter terrorism, they actually mean they want to bomb schools, hospitals, and homes. They want to punish the civilians who had the courage to rise up against Assad. When the regime calls the brave White Helmets terrorists, we know they are not serious about fighting terrorism. The United States will not cooperate with Russia on the Assad regime’s slaughter of innocent civilians.
Russia also wants the United States and the international community to provide money to rebuild Syria. Translation: they want us to clean up all the roads, bridges, and homes that Russian jets, Iranian-backed militias, and Syrian shells destroyed. The United States will not consider such requests for reconstruction aid until we see concrete results from a genuine political process that ends the war and offers freedom to the Syrian people. No one else should either. That would be absurd. The U.S. taxpayer is certainly not going to subsidize Assad’s campaign of destruction.
There is time still to pursue an alternative. The United States wants to see such a political solution emerge in Syria, one that is based on the roadmap in Security Council Resolution 2254. This calls for a real dialogue among Syrians and the drafting of a new constitution, leading to genuine free and fair elections.
But for Russia, continuing to support this murderous dictator, and isolating themselves from the international community, is the wrong choice.
An offensive in Idlib will only leave Syria weaker and more broken and create generations of Syrians who will never forget the heinous and senseless brutality of the Assad regime and its allies.
We urge Russia to consider its options carefully. Stop Assad’s assault on Idlib. Work with us, with the UN and international partners, to find peace at last for Syria. The Secretary-General, and the overwhelming majority of this Council, have made our position very clear. Russia needs to live up to its responsibility and put an end to the fighting.
There are no other options for the people of Syria. They have suffered enough.