CRISTIAN MORELLI | It is an honor for Limes Club Firenze to have Mr. Anthony Baird responding to some questions regarding a conflict which has been forgotten by all major media. Mr. Baird has worked for the U.S. Department of State for almost 20 years, focusing on East Europe as well as the Middle East. Before joining the Foreign Service, he received a Bachelor’s of Arts from Brigham Young University in International Relations, and a Master’s of Arts in Russian Studies from the European University in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
In the midst of the chaos created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, other main issues have been left out of the public discourse and interest, particularly the Syrian civil war which has been going on for more than a decade now without any sign of resolve. What has the U.S. been doing to find a final peace agreement with the Assad regime along with its Western partners?
The United States supports the UN-facilitated, Syrian-led process laid out within the parameters of UNSCR 2254. We strongly support UN Secretary General Guterres’ and Special Envoy Pedersen’s calls for an immediate nationwide ceasefire and efforts by Special Envoy Pedersen to facilitate a political resolution to the conflict. We remain engaged with the UN, our allies, and our international partners to encourage all possible efforts to advance the political track.
Specifically related to your role at the U.S. Mission at UNOG, what are the hoped and the actual results you think the U.S. was able to achieve as far as peace talks at UN level?
In the past year, the U.S. government has worked hard to try and advance the political process, preserve the existing ceasefire lines to keep violence low, expand humanitarian access through increased aid, and increase access through the cross-border aid mechanism and other modalities of getting aid to Syrians in need. Here in Geneva, we have done this through our close engagement with the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen and his office, as well as our work in the Syria Humanitarian Task Force and the Ceasefire Task Force. Both task forces were established in 2015 by the International Syria Support Group, and include representatives from 27 member-states and regional organizations, as well as UN agencies in Geneva, Damascus, and the region.
Since the Obama Administration we have seen an increasing desire in the United States to reduce U.S. direct military interventions in global conflicts, and an increasing reliance on economic levers such as sanctions. Have sanctions against the Assad regime been effective in reducing his attacks on civilian population?
Our sanctions are an important tool to press for accountability for the Assad regime’s innumerable atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As a general matter, U.S. sanctions do not target humanitarian-related trade, assistance, or activities. In July 2019, the U.S. Congress passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after the brave Syrian defector who provided abundant photographic evidence of Syrian security authorities’ use of torture and murder of thousands of unrightfully detained Syrians. The U.S. Government is continuously identifying and designating individuals and entities under U.S. sanctions authorities related to Syria, including but not limited to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and other atrocities against its own people.
The extremely dire humanitarian crisis in Syria is a direct result of the Assad regime’s blocking of life-saving assistance, systemic corruption, and economic mismanagement. It is imperative for the regime and its supporters to engage seriously in political dialogue and allow humanitarian assistance to reach communities in need in order to achieve a sustainable end to the Syrian people’s suffering.
ISIS is also another topic which seems to be almost forgotten by medias and the general public. Is it still posing a real threat as it is harboring in a country which now lives in an anarchical state?
While ISIS no longer controls any territory thanks to the successful campaign by the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, remnants of ISIS remain active in various regions of Syria. We continue to work with our increasingly capable local partners to maintain constant pressure on ISIS remnants in Syria to ensure ISIS’s lasting defeat. Preventing an ISIS resurgence in Iraq and Syria, as well as by its affiliates and networks beyond the Middle East, demands revitalized U.S. engagement, along with our 83 partners and allies that make up the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
President Joe Biden has spoken to Congress and Senate at the State of the Union address recently. In his speech, he addressed how the U.S. is trying to cope with multiple global issues at the same time, we could think of the rising role of China as Super Power, the Covid-19 pandemic and of course the escalating tensions with Russia and its President. What role does Syria play in U.S. interests in the Middle East amidst all of these global challenges?
The challenges Syrians face – oppression from their own government, the continuing threat of terrorism, access to medical resources to combat the spread of COVID, economic pressure from regime mismanagement and abuse of financial and economic structures, access to humanitarian assistance – remain a real concern for us. Some of these challenges, such as those inflicted on them by the Assad regime, are unique to Syria. Others, such as COVID and terrorism, are ones that the region as a whole faces. We will continue to work with our partners in the region to try to overcome these challenges and to try to provide a better life for Syrians and all others in the region.
The 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council has just ended. Concerns over the many human rights violations perpetrated by the Russian army during the conflict in Ukraine took most of the international community’s attention. During his address to the HRC, Secretary Anthony Blinken barely spoke about the Syrian conflict. How did the Council work regarding the issue in Syria? What are the resolutions that were taken against the Assad regime?
The United States remains very engaged on Syria, including in the Human Rights Council where we just took our seat and re-joined the core group that supports the resolution at each Human Rights Council session human rights in Syria. We remain committed to ensuring the most recent resolution has strong language that accurately reflects the atrocities that have been committed in Syria since 2011. Violations and abuses committed by all perpetrators, but particularly the regime, affect every Syrian family and therefore we continue to engage countries to ensure a strong vote count that provides unified condemnation of the regime. The resolution in the Human Rights Council also contains the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which we strongly support. The COI has been invaluable to the documentation of atrocities and other abuses committed in Syria and has played an important role in accountability efforts, as demonstrated by recent convictions in Germany of former regime officials for atrocity crimes. The United States’ commitment to promoting accountability for those responsible for atrocities in Syria, and justice for the victims, is unwavering. We firmly believe that accountability is essential in building confidence in the political process called for in Security Council Resolution 2254 and to secure a stable, just, and enduring peace.
From an insider perspective, how do you see these peace talks going in the near future? Can we expect an end to this endless barbaric civil war? Will the UNOG and its role of protecting human rights around the world win this fight against the Assad regime?
We, along with our partners and with UNSE Pedersen, are working along many different tracks to try to reach this end. For example, from March 21 to 25, the UN in Geneva hosted the seventh round of Syria Constitutional Committee. The Committee, established in October 2019, is comprised of Syrian representatives selected by the regime, by the Syrian opposition, as well as representatives of Syrian civil society. The committee is tasked with drafting a new constitution pursuant to UN-supervised elections. We also support UNSE Pedersen’s efforts to move forward all aspects of UNSCR 2254, including release of detainees, creation of a safe and secure environment or the return of refugees, and combatting terrorism, inter alia. We also remain committed to holding accountable all those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and will continue to pursue various avenues to that end. All parties must negotiate in the best interests of the Syrian people, and the Assad regime should empower its delegates so they can negotiate in good faith to advance a political resolution to UNSCR 2254. Syria is not only of strategic importance for the U.S. and its role in the MENA region but also to the entire Mediterranean region. National and international security, in a constantly changing world order, stand at the core of every nations’ concerns. The UN’s strategic role of gathering every nation altogether, in order to maintain international peace, makes it possible to deal with multiple conflicts – whether civil or international –at the same time. Peace in Syria is as important as peace in Ukraine. The United Nations, along with the United States as a diplomatic partner, can make a difference in both contexts, if national interests are put aside.
We would like to thank Mr. Baird for his precious time and clear answers to a very delicate conflict and wish him success in such delicate work.
Fonte immagine di copertina: Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, DFID – UK Department for International Development, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/11174249693/