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The New Arab Staff

Biden will keep up the pressure on Syria's Assad, adviser says

Biden will continue to be tough on Assad [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 November, 2020

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Syria reconstruction will be conditional on the regime making considerable political reforms, Biden has said.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden will demand hard political reforms from Bashar Al-Assad's regime and Russia if Syria is to receive US reconstruction funding, according to Arabic-language media.

An adviser for Biden, the Democrats candidate for president, told a group of Syrians that if elected he will not soften US policy towards the Assad regime, according to Alsharq Alawsat, which is responsible for the majority of the 500,000 deaths during the war.

The regime must ease its hold on power, address the refugee issue, and release detainees if reconstruction money is to be unlocked, the report said.

"[A Biden administration] will make clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that there can be no American, or European, support for the reconstruction of Syria unless political reform takes place, and that reform must be meaningful," the report read.

"Additionally, the main humanitarian issues must be addressed, and presidential accountability must take place. Biden stressed the need to release prisoners, while keeping the US sanctions on the Syrian regime and the entities that deal with it in place, including Russia."

The newspaper, which had spoken to leading Syrian-Americans, said a Biden administration would reassert US authority and stand up to Russia, a key backer of the Assad regime.

This will include maintaining the US' military footprint in northern Syria, which President Donald Trump has threatened to scale down to zero.

"[The US presence in northeast Syria] showed that it is a deterrent to Russian and regime airstrikes. At the same time, Biden's approach will look for ways to strengthen the Turkish operations in Idleb, which currently protect nearly three million people from Syrian and Russian aggression," the Biden adviser said, according to the report re-published by The Syrian Observer.

"Regardless of our differences with Turkey at the moment, we are aware of the impact of its operations in Idleb on protecting the lives of Syrians, and we will work hand in hand [US and Turkey] at that."

Russia and Turkey agreed to a ceasefire covering northwest Syria in March, which ended a bloody assault on Idlib province by Moscow-backed regime forces.

The region has still be subject to periodic shelling by regime forces and airstrikes by Russia, but there have been no major offensives on Idlib since then.

There are concerns that Turkey might scale back its military presence in Idlib, where it has been acting as a guarantor of the ceasefire.

On Tuesday, Turkish forces withdrew from a second outpost in northern Hama that has been surrounded by regime forces since the late 2019-early 2020 offensive.

There were also concerns among some Syrian activists that Biden might ease sanctions on Assad, which they see as a  necessary tool in pressuring the regime to conform to international law.

The policy adviser insists this in not the case.

"[Biden sees] sanctions are a necessary foreign policy tool, and imposing sanctions on the Syrian regime is only one of several tools that together, must form a policy that promotes justice and accountability, and pushes for a political settlement to the Syrian war," the report said.

The adviser said that sanctions will be bolstered by diplomatic pressure on Assad and his key international backers, Iran and Russia.

"Sanctions must be imposed as part of a broader and more comprehensive strategy, driven by diplomacy. The Caesar Act is the most punitive sanctions against the regime and its backers in Russia and Iran. We are aware that there are humanitarian exceptions, and we will consider improving the way we take those exceptions into consideration to ensure aid is delivered to Syrians," the adviser said

Syria's war, which broke out after the brutal suppression of anti-regime protests in 2011, has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

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