US envoy to UN to visit Turkey, Syria high on agenda

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New U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference to mark the start of the U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council for March, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 1, 2021. (Reuters Photo)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will visit Turkey to meet with top officials this week to discuss the “dire humanitarian needs in Syria,” the U.S.-Turkey relationship and global challenges, the U.S. mission to the U.N. said Tuesday.

Thomas-Greenfield will visit Turkey from Wednesday to Friday to meet with senior Turkish officials, U.N. agencies, aid groups and Syrian refugees, said senior officials with the U.S. mission to the U.N.

The trip will “focus on the extensive support provided by the United Nations and its partner agencies to meet the dire humanitarian needs in Syria,” it said in a statement. The envoy will also visit the Turkey-Syria border this week ahead of a likely showdown with Russia in the U.N. Security Council over the extension of a cross-border humanitarian aid operation.

Thomas-Greenfield will “convey the United States’ strong support for humanitarian access into Syria and the U.S. commitment to the people of Syria,” said one U.S. official.

“The Ambassador will meet with senior Turkish officials to discuss opportunities to strengthen the U.S.-Turkey relationship; work with our NATO ally to address global challenges; improve cooperation on Syria, including managing the refugee crisis; and recognize Turkey’s crucial role in the facilitation of cross-border assistance and work to welcome and provide refuge to millions of Syrian refugees,” the mission said in the statement.

“Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will emphasize the urgent need for additional crossings and stepped-up international assistance, as there is no viable alternative to alleviate the vast needs of vulnerable populations in northern Syria – needs that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.

“Nothing could be more urgent than continuing to provide life-saving aid through the cross-border mechanism … This has grown even more significant and more dire,” the U.S. official said.

The 15-member Security Council first authorized a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points. Last year, it reduced that access to one crossing point at Russia’s insistence. from Turkey due to opposition from Russia and China over renewing all four.

Another showdown is likely over the renewal of the mandate for the operation, which expires on July 10. A resolution to extend council approval needs nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the five permanent members Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.

Several council members, including the United States, are pushing to expand the cross-border operation and increase the number of cross-border aid access points.

“Nothing else can deliver the amount of aid in the frequency needed to support vulnerable populations in northern Syria,” said the U.S. official.

U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock appealed to the Security Council last week not to cut a cross-border aid “lifeline” to some 3 million Syrians in the country’s north as Russia questioned the importance of the operation.

Lowcock previously stressed the importance of keeping the crossing from Turkey to Syria’s northwest open for an additional 12 months.

Lowcock warned that if this crossing isn’t reauthorized, food deliveries for 1.4 million people every month, millions of medical treatments, nutrition for tens of thousands of children and mothers and education supplies for tens of thousands of students will stop.

“We want to see both more cross-line and more cross-border assistance. The cross-border operation – which is a lifeline for more than 3 million people – cannot be substituted,” Lowcock told the council. “We look to this council to ensure that that lifeline is not severed.”

Pedersen said cross-border aid “remains essential to save lives.”

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