Intel: Trump’s Syria envoy promises 'significant' Syria aid amid new US sanctions

al-monitor James Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria, is pictured outside the Boynuyogun refugee camp near Hatay, Turkey, March 3, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Caliskan.

Jun 22, 2020

The United States will provide a “significant amount” of new humanitarian aid for Syria even as stringent new sanctions take effect, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the war-torn country announced today.

“The Caesar Act has very strong humanitarian provisions that require us — the US government — to explain to Congress and ensure in our actual sanctions targeting that we do not undercut the humanitarian efforts underway,” US Syria Envoy James Jeffrey said at a virtual Middle East Institute panel today. “The United States will be pledging a significant amount at the [European Union] pledging conference for humanitarian aid at the end of this month. Already with over $10.6 billion, we’re the largest humanitarian contributor. That will not stop, nor should it, in this time of COVID-19,” Jeffrey said.

Why it matters: Although the Trump administration’s new sanctions on Damascus — mandated under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act — have significant bipartisan support, critics fear they could inhibit Syrian reconstruction efforts with President Bashar al-Assad poised to win the nine-year civil war.

“We want to make it clear to anybody who wants to rebuild Assad’s Syria that that cannot happen with Caesar sanctions until we have a political process,” said Jeffrey. Still, he stressed that humanitarian aid will still flow to Assad-held territory under the new sanctions.

“We have no intention of targeting anything that delivers humanitarian assistance anywhere in Syria, including regime areas,” said Jeffrey, adding, “Some of that aid, including American aid, flows to regime areas. We do nothing to stop humanitarian assistance going to regime areas. We actually provide aid to regime areas, because we differentiate between aid to individuals and stabilization and reconstruction funding that will be exploited by the regime.”

The new sanctions target anyone who supports Syria’s military, energy, construction and engineering sectors unless the Assad government makes a series of human rights reforms. The law, which Trump signed in December, could also lead to more sanctions on Syria’s Central Bank if the Treasury Department designates it a “primary laundering concern.” The cost of rebuilding Syria could range anywhere from $400 billion to $1 trillion.

What’s next: The European Union will convene its Syria aid pledging conference in Brussels on June 30.

Know more: Elizabeth Hagedorn walks through the new Assad sanctions and the debate over Syria reconstruction. And Amberin Zaman reports on Russian efforts to close UN border crossings used to import humanitarian aid into Syria.

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