Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 30, 2023
Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Special Envoy Pedersen, and Ms. Wosornu, for your continued attention to the ongoing conflict and dire humanitarian needs in Syria.
Colleagues, before Hamas’ horrific terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7th, the Special Envoy warned this Council that increased military activity in Syria had the potential to spill over into neighboring countries. Unfortunately, the Special Envoy’s words proved prescient. Terrorist groups, some backed by the Syrian regime and Iran, are threatening to expand the conflict beyond Gaza by using Syrian territory to plot and launch attacks against Israel. We have also seen attacks on U.S. forces in Syria, whose mission has been – and continues to be – to defeat Da’esh.
The Syrian regime has allowed Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, to use its international airports for military purposes. By doing so, the Assad regime has put civilian travelers at those airports at risk. The regime should stop playing the victim card. It is fully within the regime’s power to prevent Iran from using Syrian civilian airports to transport weapons and fighters that are then used to threaten neighboring states.
We call on the regime to curb the activities of Iran-backed militias in Syria, stop the flow of foreign arms and fighters through its territory, and cease escalatory actions in the Golan Heights.
The United States has warned all actors not to take advantage of the situation in Gaza to widen or deepen the conflict. And we have made clear that we will respond to attacks on our own personnel and facilities in Syria or against U.S. interests and, where appropriate, exercise our right to self-defense forcefully, proportionately, and in a manner that minimizes civilian harm.
The narrowly-tailored U.S. strikes on Iranian militia sites in eastern Syria on October 27th were in response to repeated attacks on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq since October 17th, and were an appropriate exercise of our right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. No one can argue U.S. strikes were – or will be – without warning. And as U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin stated after the recent strikes, the United States will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people.
Colleagues, at this perilous moment for the region, the protection of civilians must be at the forefront. We are outraged by the relentless attacks carried out by the Assad regime, and by Russian attacks in northern Syria, which have killed scores of civilians, displaced over 100,000 people, and destroyed vital infrastructure.
In just the last week, the regime or its Russian allies struck a displacement camp in northwest Syria, killing innocent children. And we continue to see attacks on schools and medical facilities. Neither the Assad regime nor Russia has even tried to offer a plausible explanation for these horrors. For years now, their strategy has been to deny, deflect, and disinform.
To claim that anyone who opposes them is a terrorist, and any target they choose is legitimate, and any report of civilian harm is fabricated. That is not how responsible nations behave. It is not the standard to which the United States holds itself, or to which we hold our partners and allies.
The Assad regime and Russia will no doubt take the floor to decry our support for Israel. The difference is that democracies conduct military operations in self-defense, and in a way intended to minimize civilian harm. They do not intentionally target civilians.
Colleagues, on the political front, we are closely monitoring the two-month sustained protests, many led by women, in southern Syria, including Suwayda and Dara’a. We fully support Syrians’ freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including when exercised in protest in pursuit of dignity, freedom, security, and justice. These protests also underscore the need for a Syrian-focused and Syrian-led solution to the conflict.
Special Envoy Pedersen, we commend your continued focus on the political track – in line with Resolution 2254 – despite the Assad regime’s obstructionism. Resolution 2254 remains the only viable roadmap for a lasting solution to the conflict. And we must work to identify all avenues to advance the stalled political process, including by supporting the important work of the Women’s Advisory Board.
While we work toward a sustainable political solution, we must also continue to address the dire humanitarian situation. The United States welcomes the continued flow of UN convoys across the Türkiye-Syria border, which provides lifesaving aid to millions in need, as we heard from Ms. Wosornu.
But we are mindful that the UN’s arrangement with the regime regarding the Bab al-Salam and al-Rai crossings could lapse as soon as November 13th. There is no reason why this arrangement should not be renewed, and we urge the Assad regime to do so. We must all urge the regime to do so.
This Council must give the UN the support it needs to maintain unhindered access to all Syrians, through all modalities, for as long as needed. And this Council, and all Member States, must continue to stand with the Syrian people in their time of need.
Thank you, Mr. President.