Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

US Report Calls for Stopping Theft of Aid by Assad Regime

US Report Calls for Stopping Theft of Aid by Assad Regime

Thursday, 16 March, 2023 - 06:15
Humanitarian assistance at Aleppo airport. AFP

A report issued by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has issued recommendations for the US administration to stop what it described as the “diversion" and “theft” of aid by Bashar Assad’s regime.

“The United States has spent over $14.1 billion on humanitarian assistance for Syria, more than any other donor,” said the analysis published by the Washington-based Foundation. Yet, unlike Russia, the US does not play a decisive role in deciding the final destination of the aid.

It said the five core components of a strategy to prevent diversion of aid include: First, “Public Diplomacy — The president, secretary of state, and other key officials should publicly identify the problem and declare that preventing diversion is a US priority in Syria.”

Second, Coordination with Allies — “Together, the United States and its allies should leverage their role as donors to demand specific reforms.”

Third, “Reviving Oversight Mechanisms within the UN.”

Fourth, “Reforming Aid Operations in Syria — UN agencies must renegotiate the terms of their relationships with the Syrian government.”

Fifth, “Congressional Action — With its power of the purse, Congress can determine the conditions under which aid flows to the UN and other providers.”

The report said that “the UN must renegotiate the rules of humanitarian operations with the Assad regime. Syria is a failed state, yet the Assad regime maintains the privileges of sovereignty. Barring authorization by the Security Council — where Moscow regularly employs its veto on behalf of Damascus — UN agencies cannot act without the regime’s consent. This raises the question of what threat or incentive would compel Assad’s cooperation.”

“For donor states, the first course of action should be to implement the five-pronged strategy,” it said. “Donor states should begin to implement this strategy right now, since its core components are compatible with post-earthquake recovery efforts. There is no reason to postpone either candid discussion of aid diversion or the revival of UN oversight mechanisms.”

It added that the US administration should “lay the groundwork for employing the radical option, even if it remains a fallback policy.”

Congress should draft legislation to withhold funding for UN aid in the absence of certain reforms. The portion withheld should increase every six or twelve months on a fixed schedule if problems persist.

It stressed that Congress would not deprive the Syrian people of assistance. Rather, it would redirect assistance to other Syrians in need, without constant obstruction by the regime in Damascus.

The report said that by threatening to veto aid, Russia has gradually whittled down from four to one the number of border crossings through which UN agencies can send relief.

"Moscow also reduced from 12 months to six the duration of Security Council resolutions that authorize cross-border assistance."

It warned that if the US and its allies buckle under Russia's pressure, the campaign for reform may collapse. To preempt this threat, "donor states should create a parallel aid channel that does not depend on UN authorization."

Editor Picks