West wrangles with Russia and Iran over Syria reconstruction

UN General Assembly 2018: The US, EU and UK say no funds to rebuild Syria without a political transition

Moawiya Sayasina, the Syrian activist who started scribbling anti-Assad slogans in 2011, walks past the rubble of destroyed buildings in a rebel-held neighbourhood in the southern Syrian city of Daraa on June 5, 2018. "Your turn, Doctor." Seven years after scribbling the anti-Assad slogan that sparked Syria's war, activists-turned-rebels Moawiya and Samer Sayasina are bracing themselves for a regime assault on their hometown Daraa. / AFP / Mohamad ABAZEED
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The future of Syria became a battleground between the US, Russia and Iran on Wednesday during a heated discussion at the United Nations.

Russia and Iran want the UN to find some of the at least $388 billion (DH1,425 billion) estimated to rebuild the shattered country after seven years of conflict.

Although Russia and Iran, allies of President Bashar Al Assad, and China have made investments in Syria, they cannot afford the cost of reconstruction alone without financial support from the international community.

However, the US and its Western allies have said they will not approve such funding for areas of the country controlled by Mr Al Assad or drop sanctions against the Syrian government unless there is a meaningful political transition.

Russia said Western requirements for financial assistance were “unacceptable”, while Iran said reconstruction funding is needed “now”.

James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria engagement, said for any peace deal to work Iran and its proxies must leave the country.

“Syria will need reconstruction funding,” Mr Jeffrey said at a meeting hosted by the EU on the Syria crisis on Wednesday. “But the Assad regime should get no help to rebuild Syria until it is on a path of genuine political reform.”

He added that if the US were to recognise the Assad regime and give money to reconstruction efforts, it would “essentially sweep the last seven years under the rug”.

His sentiments were echoed by Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt, who said political conditions were not right for the UK to provide funding.

“We will not consider providing reconstructing efforts without a political settlement,” Mr Burt said.


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The EU has also ruled out providing funding to areas of the country still ruled by Assad.

At the meeting, EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said nobody will win “either the war or the peace without a negotiated political solution”.

Ms Mogherini praised the recent agreement to avert an assault on Idlib, brokered by Russia and Turkey, but said “the risk of an offensive still remains”.

Earlier this month Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of the Syrian government, and Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan, a supporter of the rebel forces, agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in the country's Idlib province to prevent a planned regime assault on the area.

More than three million people live in the last rebel-held province, raising fears of a humanitarian catastrophe if an assault took place.