Administration says it can work with Russia on key Syrian crossing point

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The Biden administration is confident the U.S. can work with Russia to keep open a critical border crossing between Turkey and Syria that serves as a lifeline for humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrians suffering after a decade of war, a senior State Department official said Friday.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Asian Affairs Joey Hood answered in the affirmative when asked if the U.S. is optimistic it can keep open the Bab al-Hawa crossing , which facilitates about 1,000 trucks each month to deliver critical humanitarian assistance to an estimated 1.4 million Syrians in the northwest of the country.

“The answer is yes,” Hood said in a briefing with reporters, previewing Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s upcoming meeting in Italy on the crisis in Syria.

“We see here an opportunity to work constructively with Russia on this issue of getting humanitarian assistance to Syrians all across the country,” he said, adding that Syrians are in desperate need of assistance to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a growing humanitarian problem and one that I don’t think anyone wants to see exacerbated.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had hinted on Tuesday that Russia could use its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block the mandate for the border-crossing’s renewal, which is set to expire on July 10, The Associated Press reported.

Since January 2020, Russia has used its veto power to reduce the number of border crossings for humanitarian assistance from four to the remaining one.

Moscow argues that humanitarian assistance should be delivered through Damascus, which is controlled by embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, and is critical of Turkey facilitating access to areas that are largely controlled by rebel groups.

“The situation where Turkey in reality fully controls the provision of humanitarian assistance to Syria is also unacceptable,” Lavrov reportedly said in oral remarks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.

The vote on the Bab al-Hawa crossing in the U.N. could pose a critical test for the U.S.-Russian relationship that President Biden is working to steady amid a host of conflicts and following a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last week.

Biden has said he seeks a stable and predictable relationship with Moscow to advance shared priorities on a host of global issues, including arms control, climate change, the pandemic and deescalating the chance of military conflict and nuclear war.

The two leaders agreed to reinstate their respective ambassadors, with U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan returning to Moscow on Thursday and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov arrived in Washington earlier this week.

Tags Antony Blinken Bashar al-Assad Joe Biden Syria Syrian civil war Vladimir Putin

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