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Biden's U.N. envoy sees 'desperation' as Russia threatens to close crossing into Syria

If the crossing is closed, millions of Syrian refugees would lose access to critical humanitarian assistance.
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WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in an interview Thursday that she plans to convey to her Russian counterparts that the last authorized border crossing into Syria must remain open for humanitarian aid to flow through.

Thomas-Greenfield sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell at Bab al-Hawa, the crossing between Turkey and Syria that is at risk of closing because Russia has threatened to veto an extension of a U.N. Security Council resolution that requires it to stay open.

Watch the exclusive interview with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on "Andrew Mitchell Reports" at noon ET.

If the crossing, which goes into the Syrian rebel-held province of Idlib, were to close, millions of Syrian refugees would lose access to critical humanitarian assistance.

“I feel very confident that I can convey what all of the Security Council members will need to hear, and that is that what is happening here is needed, and it is being provided in an efficient way that saves lives,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Thomas-Greenfield said she felt “a sense of desperation” as she witnessed what was happening at the crossing, which is the only way coronavirus vaccines can be sent across the border into Syria.

“I spoke to a number of NGOs, as you mentioned, and they talked about the desperation of people on the other side of the border, and that they know that if this does not continue, that they stand a chance of dying,” the ambassador said about the crossing potentially shutting down. “That's what we have to take into account as we look at the work that is ahead for the Security Council.”

Asked if President Joe Biden plans to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their upcoming June 16 summit in Switzerland, Thomas-Greenfield said she doesn’t know what’s on the agenda for Biden’s meeting, but emphasized that the president is “strongly committed” to seeing the operation at the crossing continue.

According to the U.N., around 1,000 trucks full of humanitarian aid supplies travel through Bab al-Hawa each month. About three-quarters of the four million people in northwestern Syria depend on the U.N. to meet their basic needs, and the U.N. says the cross-border operation reaches nearly 85 percent of those people each month.

The Security Council will have to vote to extend the resolution authorizing the use of the crossing past July 10, when it expires. Russia, which is Syria's closet ally, has said it wants humanitarian aid to be disseminated from the Syrian regime in Damascus, but the U.S. and other western partners that support the border crossing fear that wouldn't be a reliable option.

Thomas-Greenfield’s said she has a positive message for her Russian counterpart: “I have seen firsthand the importance of this border crossing, and the needs that are being addressed in this border crossing, and you don't want on your shoulders the desperation of the people on the other side of the border.”