The United States cannot solve the ongoing crisis in Syria with humanitarian aid alone, said Dr. Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Only a negotiated political transition that includes the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can bring an end to the three-year-old streak of devastation and bloodshed, Shah said Friday.
“A man who holds his own country hostage, a man who retaliates against hospitals and doctors, who has used both starvation and chemical weapons as tools of war against his own people, does not have the capacity to bring about peace,” Shah said of the embattled Syrian leader.
“In this context,” he continued, “Syrians must chart their own path forward.”
Speaking at a National Press Club luncheon sponsored by the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., Shah painted a grim picture of the civil war in Syria, and the surrounding region, which he said includes 11 million displaced people, 23 confirmed polio cases, and entire cities cut off from life-saving aid for months.
“We are not talking about fighters here,” said Shah. “We’re talking about men and women, girls and boys, families and children. This violates every basic humanitarian principle, and is absolutely unacceptable.”
Under these conditions, Shah said, USAID and Secretary of State John Kerry would continue to push for a political transition plan, known as the Geneva communiqué, agreed upon at an international peace conference in 2012.
That plan has been the subject of a contentious round of Syrian peace talks this week, which came to a close in Switzerland on Friday without any tangible results. United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters that delegates from the Syrian opposition would be back on Feb. 10, but that he had not received the same assurances from Assad’s delegates.
“They didn’t tell me that they are thinking of not coming,” said Brahimi. “On the contrary, they said they they would come, but they needed to check in with their capital.”
Adding to the tension were reports of nearly 1,900 people killed during the week of talks, including 450 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Forty of those people died from insufficient access to food and medicine as a result of government troop blockades, the group said.
Additionally, Syria has fallen behind in its schedule to remove its chemical weapons stockpile, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council, and is on pace to miss next week’s deadline of sending all toxic agents abroad for destruction, Reuters reported. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday he still expects the Assad regime to meet its obligation.