Moscow sending signs it is frustrated with Assad: US official

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There are “some signals” that Russia is frustrated with the Assad regime and Washington is looking to increase pressure on the Syrian government to take a different approach, the US envoy for Syria said Wednesday.

“Non-official, but authoritative sources” from Moscow have sent signals that Russia is having doubts about where they are going with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s policies, US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said in a phone briefing with reporters.

The positive signs include Russia beginning to study ways to ease the crisis, but there is no timeline based on any of this, Jeffrey pointed out.

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Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011 when residents protested, demanding democratic reform. In southwest Syria, the regime detained and tortured youth for spraying anti-regime graffiti.

Shortly after, Russia, Iran and Iranian proxies, including Hezbollah, intervened to prop up the Assad regime.

But nine years later, Russia may be rethinking the policies of the regime against its people.

In the same phone brieifing, Joel Rayburn, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs, said that from April 2019 until March 2020, the Assad regime carried on with its “brutal all-out war,” which cost them tens of millions of dollars. “And they chose to spend their scarce resources that way and make war on their own people instead of delivering services, subsidized bread and fuel, and so on," Rayburn said.

The Caesar Act and sanctions imposed in line with this legislation will attempt to choke off the revenue used by the Assad regime in its war against the Syrian people.

Analysts and government officials have said that Russia now knows it cannot rebuild Syria or fund its reconstruction with the West. “We are not going to reward Assad for destroying his country,” Jeffrey said. He noted that there are “playgrounds for oligarchs” being built in parts of Syria by the Assad regime and “its cronies. They will be sanctioned.”

Jeffrey said that Washington was working with the Russians on various levels to try to find a way to move forward on UNSCR 2254, which stipulates free and fair elections monitored by the UN across Syria, a permanent countrywide ceasefire and other points.

The US has informed the Russians that for Syria to come out from under the latest sanctions, it must start doing these things, such as returning refugees and halting the bombing and besieging of cities like Idlib.

If these actions are carried out, the international community “beginning with the US” will work to stand down various economic and diplomatic measures against Syria. Jeffrey said that the US does not pass messages to Assad or make a secret of what it is demanding. “We presume the Russians do,” he said.

Countries should not work with Assad

A senior US official told Sky News Arabia that Washington had had “very extensive and intense discussions” with Lebanese officials to explain the Caesar Act.

The official was quoted as saying that there was “a warning to those in Lebanon who are acting on behalf of the Assad regime... that this kind of activity isn’t going to be tolerated.”

The US Embassy in Lebanon also rejected claims that the Caesar Act was targeting Lebanon as claimed by Hezbollah. A US Embassy spokesperson told Lebanon’s The Daily Star that claims the sanctions would lead to the country’s starvation were completely false.

Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the pressure would not stop until Assad and his regime stopped their war against the Syrian people. For Assad himself and those that continue to support his regime, Pompeo said there two choices: “Take irreversible steps toward a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with UNSCR 2254 or face ever new tranches of crippling sanctions.”

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