Barbara Leaf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, has ruled out any normalization with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Leaf said: “I want to be clear on what we have not done in Syria, and what we will not do, which is: support efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad; lift sanctions on the regime; or change our position opposing reconstruction in Syria until there is authentic, enduring progress towards a political solution.”
“Bashar al-Assad and the coterie around him remain the single largest impediment to that goal,” she added.
Leaf called for the need to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its actions and violations of international laws.
On the humanitarian situation in Syria, she said: “Humanitarian needs are higher than ever, compounded by the COVID 19 pandemic, historic levels of drought, decades of mismanagement and corruption by Assad and his cronies.”
The US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs listed her country’s priorities in Syria, which include, defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda, increasing access to humanitarian aid, controlling violence by preserving ceasefire agreements, and promoting accountability for the Assad regime’s atrocities.
She pledged to continue “to use all our tools, including the Caesar Act, to press the Assad regime.”
Leaf also stressed the great support for the efforts of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen to reach a political resolution to the crisis.
“On existing ceasefires, I would note that we are deeply concerned by recent increased rhetoric from Turkey about potential escalation in Northern Syria and we have stepped up our diplomatic engagements to try and continue to de-escalate any tensions,” she underlined.
Pointing to Iranian influence in Syria, the US diplomat stressed that Iranian forces, including the IRGC, as well as Hezbollah and Tehran-backed armed groups, “threaten the security of our allies and partners, including Israel and Jordan, and play a destabilizing role in Syria.”
Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized the absence of a clear US strategy in Syria. Its chairman, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, urged the US and the international community to “hold Assad accountable for his crimes,” calling for an understandable American strategy.
He also criticized normalization with the Assad regime, noting that it “strengthens Iran’s influence and its attacks on the countries of the region.”