Remarks at a UNSC Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria (Idlib)

Rodney Hunter
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 18, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Under-Secretary General DiCarlo and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for your briefings today.

Mr. President, the United States’ position on the humanitarian situation in Idlib is simple: we need to see a full and immediate de-escalation of violence by all sides and, in particular, the Assad regime forces and the Russian Federation in and around Idlib province. The regime’s military escalation is unacceptable and it poses a reckless and irresponsible threat to the security and stability of this region.

We were hopeful that the Russian Federation’s June 13 announcement of a ceasefire between Turkey and the Russian Federation would bring a reprieve to the civilians of Idlib. However, as we have just heard from the UN, this latest ceasefire appears already to have broken down, and the Syrian regime is showing no signs of stopping its offensive push into Idlib in clear violation of the 2018 Sochi Agreement reached between Turkey and Russia.

Reports of Assad regime forces shelling Turkish positions in the Idlib de-militarized zone that have resulted in the injuries of Turkish soldiers is alarming. The United States is gravely concerned about the threat that this offensive poses to Turkey and Turkish military forces. Such acts are increasing tensions and the threat of a wider escalation of this conflict that will ultimately put millions of Syrian civilians at risk inside Syria.

The United States stands with our NATO ally, Turkey, in calling for the preservation of the 2018 Sochi Agreement ceasefire as agreed by Russia and Turkey last September and confirmed at the Istanbul Summit in October. Furthermore, the United States strongly supports Turkey’s efforts to de-escalate the violence. It is essential that the parties restore the September Sochi ceasefire line.

Mr. President, over the past four years, the Russian Federation has announced at least 10 ceasefire agreements that it has gone on to violate or disregard despite the risk to civilian lives and humanitarian conditions on the ground. The Assad regime and its allies have used these ceasefires to seek a tactical military advantage—to acquire ammunition, reposition forces, and send in reinforcements—while it has ultimately, every time, resumed its brutal offensives against civilian populations and moderate opposition groups that have resulted in mass displacement, civilian casualties, and restricted humanitarian access.

The United States is gravely concerned that, absent an immediate and full return by all parties to the 2018 Sochi Agreement ceasefire line and immediate restoration of the de-escalation agreements, the humanitarian conditions in Idlib and northwest Syria could soon surpass the international community’s ability to conduct a robust humanitarian response.

Reconstituting the 2018 Sochi agreement ceasefire is also essential for the safety of medical workers, humanitarians, and the continuation of the UN’s ability to freely implement cross-border aid deliveries throughout all agreed border crossings, and in accordance with Resolution 2449.

Mr. President, the United States and our partners are steadfast in our position that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict: not to the conflict in Idlib any more than to the conflict in Syria more broadly. The United States is determined to see a lasting and immediate return to the Sochi Agreement ceasefire in order to protect civilian lives and preserve the current ceasefire lines while the UN pushes ahead to implement the political transition outlined in resolution 2254.

Therefore, the United States reiterates its calls to all parties, including Russia and to the Syrian regime, to abide by their commitments outlined in the September 2018 Sochi memorandum of understanding to end the violence, to avoid a large-scale military offensive, return to a de-escalation of violence in the area, and allow for unhindered humanitarian access to address this humanitarian disaster. The Security Council and the Syrian people cannot accept anything less. Thank you, Mr. President.