Powerful European Message to the Assad Regime
Al Moutassim Al Kilani
On March 20, 2023, sixty countries, including the European Union, the G20 nations, numerous Gulf countries, and Turkiye, gathered to support the February 2023 earthquake victims in Brussels. EU President Ursla ven der Leyen stated during her opening speech that “there are no diplomatic relations between the Europen Union and the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, against the backdrop of the war that broke out in the country in 2011.”
The EU conference did not invite either side of the Syrian conflict, and the International Red Cross prohibited the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, an organization under the control of the Assad regime, from being brought in as a local ICRC representative.
During the conference, European Commission stated that it remains committed to the 3 “Noes” concerning Syria: no normalization, no reconstruction, and no lifting of sanctions absent progress toward a political solution. This statement was a clear contrast to the Arab normalization outreach to Assad in recent weeks.
Donors at the conference stipulated that any aid to Syria must be suitably distributed, and they ruled out any support for reconstruction projects in Syria. On the other hand, Turkiye will receive both humanitarian aid and financial assistance for reconstruction operations.
According to preliminary estimates from the UN, the earthquake death toll stands at 48,500 in Turkiye and 6,000 in Syria. The cost of the earthquake damage in Turkiye exceeds 100 billion dollars, while the total value of damages and losses exceeds 5.2 billion dollars in Syria. According to the World Bank, Syria’s expected GDP for 2023 will contract by 5.5%.
At the end of the conference, the EU announced granting Syria $950 million in the form of humanitarian aid under the supervision of international organizations—in other words, no cash payments to Syria. Furthermore, the Turkish government, having raised more than $6 billion from local Turkish citizens, stated its appreciation for the solidarity and the $6 billion donations.
The conference results were clearly not what the absent Assad regime hoped for. In a press conference, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the donors’ conference for supporting the earthquake-affected people in Syria and Turkey without coordination with the Syrian government.
By excluding the regime from attending, stipulating that all Syria aid will be in-kind humanitarian goods only, and refusing to open a path for more normalization, the EU sent a powerful message to some Arab countries who have been racing to normalize with the Assad regime.
March 21, 2023