Russia and West spar over reconstruction of Syria

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia and the West sparred over the reconstruction of Syria on Friday as its military forces continue to capture opposition-held territory and Syrians express hope that the country's seven-year civil war is nearing an end.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre made clear at a Security Council meeting that the European Union will not participate in rebuilding Syria "unless a political transition is effectively carried out — with constitutional and electoral processes carried out in a sincere and meaningful way."

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky, whose country is militarily backing Syrian President Bashar Assad, countered that reconstruction should not be linked to politics and the international community should join the country's recovery effort now.

But Western nations are adamant about withholding reconstruction money to maximize pressure for a political transition.

Major powers including the five veto-wielding Security Council nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — agreed on a roadmap for a Syrian political transition at a meeting in Geneva on June 30, 2012, about 16 months after the Syrian conflict began.

The roadmap starts with the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers, includes drafting a new constitution, and ends with elections. Successive U.N. envoys have tried to get the government and opposition to the negotiating table, so far unsuccessfully. The current U.N. envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is now working to establish on a committee to draft a new constitution.

After seven years of war, the country has suffered catastrophic damage and massive rebuilding is needed. Ground warfare, airstrikes and barrel bombs have left entire cities and infrastructure a landscape of rubble. In some places like Aleppo, the destruction is reminiscent of World War II devastation.

Earlier this year, the government estimated reconstruction will cost some $200 billion dollars and last 15 years. But like neighboring Iraq, which also needs massive reconstruction after the war against the Islamic State extremist group, no one is offering much to help fund the process.

Russia's Polyansky told the council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria that "a critical challenge" to the Assad government's call this month for the return of over 5.6 million refugees "is the revival of the Syrian national economy — the generation of new jobs."

"The country is experiencing an acute shortage of construction materials and heavy equipment for which fuel is necessary," he said, and the educational and health systems need to be revived.

Polyansky then said: "It would be wise for all international partners to join assistance in the Syrian recovery effort, to eschew artificial linkages to political momentum."

More broadly, he called for Syria to be reintegrated into the regional trade and economic system which "will best advance the objective of overall normalization of relations among states in the Middle East."

"And, of course, stabilization will help to advance the U.N.-led political settlement process which is unanimously supported by all members of the Security Council," Polyansky said.

But France's Delattre said a political transition with a new constitution and credible elections is "the essential condition for the country's stability, and for our contribution to the financing of reconstruction."

"Without that," Delattre said, "nothing can justify having France and the European Union engage in financing reconstruction."

And he added that without "a breakthrough" in the political process, the humanitarian situation will never be fully resolved.

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Edith M. Lederer


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