U.S. Says Syria Rebuilding Aid Depends on a UN-Backed Peace Plan

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is withholding funds to stabilize war-ravaged Syria and warning that future assistance hinges on UN verification that a “credible and irreversible” transition to democracy is under way, according to State Department officials.

Russia has joined Turkey and Iran to try to engineer a settlement in Syria after President Vladimir Putin’s military intervened to tip the war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad. But Donald Trump has made reducing Iran’s influence in the region a centerpiece of his foreign policy, and the U.S. president is currently feuding with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

David Satterfield, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said Friday that the Assad regime and Russia want “international money flowing into the wreckage that is presently Syria.” But he said funds won’t come until a political process overseen by the United Nations is in place.

“We have been very clear, as clear as it is 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 UN,” Satterfield said on a conference call with reporters.

At his July summit with Trump in Helsinki, Putin agreed in principle that Iran should leave Syria, although Russian officials said accomplishing that would be difficult, a U.S. official familiar with the meeting told reporters this week.

Trump froze U.S. funds allocated for recovery efforts in Syria in March after saying he wanted to soon end U.S. military involvement there, a policy the Pentagon has yet to act on. Congress didn’t include a Senate-backed provision in this year’s defense policy bill that would have given the Pentagon funding and increasing its authority to support stabilization efforts.

Now, the administration is redirecting about $230 million in unspent funds that had been earmarked for Syria stabilization. Officials said U.S. partners in the fight against Islamic State have pledged $300 million in funds, including a $100 million Saudi Arabian contribution announced on Thursday.

Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Islamic State, said the U.S. maintains its leadership in the coalition, but is now emphasizing sharing the financial burden for reconstruction.

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