WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday announced it was cutting about $230 million in stabilization money to northeast Syria and said future global reconstruction funds for the country will depend on a U.N.-led peace process.
The U.S. State Department in a statement said the decision, which was authorized by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was made after other members of the global coalition against the Islamic State (IS) made contributions and pledges of about $300 million to Syria.
“This decision was made by the secretary, in consultation with the White House, and took into account the already significant military and financial contributions made by the United States to date, the president’s guidance on the need to increase burden-sharing with allies and partners, and significant new pledges made by coalition partners,” the statement read.
In the past, U.S. officials have repeatedly said their priority in Syria is the enduring defeat of the IS terror group, which according to the coalition has lost control over all but a few areas it previously held.
?Earlier funds frozen
Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he wanted to withdraw from the war-ravaged country. It was reported in late March that he froze more than $200 million in recovery funds to Syria, questioning how the money was being used in the country.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference Friday at the State Department, Brett McGurk, U.S special presidential envoy for the anti-IS coalition, said the stabilization funding was used to help residents return to areas recaptured from IS.
“Since the start of this campaign against ISIS, our military campaign has been planned in close coordination with humanitarian and stabilization plans to follow on the military operations,” McGurk said, using an acronym for the militant group. “That is why all the territory that has been retaken from ISIS — it is about 99 percent of what used to be the physical caliphate — has all held. Our stabilization programs are targeted, they are prioritized, and they are focused on saving lives, demining, water, electricity and the basic necessities.”
?Diminishing US role?
McGurk added the decision to cancel the $230 million funds would not diminish the U.S. role as the top international player in northeast Syria. He said the move is to ensure other members of the anti-IS coalition equally share the burden of making recaptured areas livable for the Syrian people.
The State Department said Friday that Saudi Arabia announced new funding of $100 million to northeast Syria to help stabilization projects in cities like Raqqa, the former de facto capital of Islamic State.
The United Arab Emirates has also pledged $50 million in contributions, the State Department’s statement said.
UN peace process
McGurk said the funding was not targeted at reconstruction programs, adding that international assistance to rebuild areas destroyed by war will not come until a United Nations-backed political peace process is achieved.
Seven years of a brutal civil war in Syria has cost nearly a half-million lives and the displacement of 11 million other Syrians.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said it estimated the cost of destruction in the country to be $330 billion, with approximately $120 billion in material damage.
?$300 billion damage
International efforts to achieve a political settlement to the conflict have so far failed to stop war. The U.S. and its European partners support a U.N.-led process known as the Geneva peace talks. Russia, Iran and Turkey have tried to find an alternate solution through tripartite meetings.
“We have been very clear, as clear as it’s possible to be, with the government of Russia that there will be no international reconstruction assistance for Syria without the irreversible political process validated by the U.N.,” David Satterfield, the acting assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, said during the Friday conference call.
Satterfield did, however, say the U.S. would remain active in Syria until a lasting defeat of Islamic State is achieved.