SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Good morning to everybody. As-salaam alaikum.
Let me first thank His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah for bringing all of us together, and for directing the world’s attention to the horrific humanitarian crisis that we have been listening to the descriptions of, and seeing on the screen the pictures of, and that has brought all of us to be here today, a devastating humanitarian crisis that is tearing Syria apart, and having profound negative impacts on the region. The urgent needs of the refugees in the region, including, as we heard eloquently from the prime minister of Lebanon, reached well across the boundaries of Syria.
I also want to thank UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for directing UN resources and attention to the Syrian civilians who are paying the extraordinary toll for this battle, and they are paying it with their health, their homes, their children, with innocents across Syria, and ultimately, with their lives.
As we work hard to bring the two sides to the table next week in pursuit of a political solution, unfortunately, rampant violence and starvation, as a tactic of the conflict, and disease continue to tear at Syria. The humanitarian situation in Syria is an outrage that should offend every reasonable conscience, and the anguish of the Syrian people demands our collective action. The Syrian people desperately need the global community to provide urgent humanitarian support, to press for a political solution that will put a stop to the violence, once and for all.
Since we gathered here in Kuwait and pledged $1.5 billion, all of us together, to supply food, medical care, sanitation services, and shelter, obviously, the humanitarian emergency in Syria has tragically only grown worse. And we have heard from Ambassador Guterres a few minutes ago the goal that we have to try to reach here. The number of civilians driven brutally from their homes has tripled: six-and-a-half million men, women, and children have been displaced in their own nation, struggling to survive the worst winter in decades without basic resources. And more than 2.3 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and are enduring endless days, weeks, and months as refugees.
I saw many of these refugees with my own eyes at the sprawling Za’atari camp in Jordan. Their plight reminds us that Syria’s civil war is not simply Syria’s problem. It is straining generous host nations, as we have heard this morning, like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey. And, obviously, those strains risk creating greater instability throughout the region, and potential breakdown throughout the region that threatens all of us. Syria’s civil war is all of our concerns.
That is why the United States, together with other nations, have stepped up. And I am proud that the United States is the leading donor of humanitarian aid. It is why I am also proud to announce today, on President Obama’s behalf, a new commitment of an additional $380 million in assistance. Combined with our previous efforts, the United States’ contribution since the start of the crisis now totals more than $1.7 billion.
But I will tell you all clearly today we are under no illusion that our job or any of our jobs here are to just write a check. None of us can be satisfied with a growing pool of refugees and of refugee needs on an annual basis. And none of us should be satisfied with the idea that we are going to just return here, year after year, responding to this plea, being asked to lay down yet more money to respond to the growing crisis. None of this will matter if the money only goes to the — unless the money goes to the people who need it. And this will only change the situation on the ground if the Assad regime stops blocking aid workers from reaching besieged communities and stops using starvation as a weapon of war.
The regime must stop targeting hospitals, doctors, and the wounded who risk their lives to treat people. The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offenses. They are not just offenses against conscience; they are also offenses against the laws of war, against international law. We must ensure that the regime complies with its international obligations, including those laid out in no uncertain terms by the UN Security Council in its October 2nd presidential statement. And I think all of us share a belief that this needs to happen immediately.
One place that particularly deserves our attention is the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, where 160,000 citizens have been effectively held hostage by regime forces for more than a year. The citizens of Ghouta are waiting — still waiting — for clean water, for baby formula and other basic supplies that can’t get past the regime’s blockades. In Ghouta and other parts of the country, such as Yarmouk refugee camp, civilians are dying of malnutrition. That is absolutely unacceptable. If the regime can allow access to United Nations and international weapons inspectors, surely it can do the same for neutral, international humanitarian assistance.
In Paris this past weekend, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I discussed what we can do, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross and others, in order to ensure that humanitarian aid to the besieged areas will get there. We also discussed critical steps that could set a more positive climate for the talks that will take place in Montreux next week, including putting ceasefires in place, even local ceasefires in places such as Aleppo, where the world has watched with horror as the regime drops barrel bombs on civilians. We also discussed the potential of exchange of prisoners, especially women and children, and the opposition has indicated its willingness to do so. We hope the regime will join them. We need to see action on all of these steps, not just words.
So, in closing, as we pledge our financial commitments, we also pledge our commitment to ending this crisis once and for all through the hard work of diplomacy. The world cannot afford to lose an entire generation of Syrian youth, as we saw in the touching images of the film a little while ago. Each of our nations has no choice but to do all we can to help the innocent civilians who have endured far, far too much for too long. And I can pledge to all of you today that the United States will continue to do our part in every way possible, not only in the assistance, but on the diplomatic front.
Thank you. Shukran. (Applause.)