Following the EU’s recent adoption of a new regional strategy for Syria and Iraq and to deal with the ISIL threat, Syrian National Coalition representative to the EU, Mouaffaq Nyrabia, transmitted a letter to Ambassadors to the EU’s Political and Security Committee. The letter outlines the need for a comprehensive approach to the crisis in Syria to: (a) defeat ISIL militarily; (b) remove the root cause of extremism in Syria – the Assad regime; and (c) establish moderate governance so that there can be no resurgence of extremism.
The letter urges the EU to play a leading role to resolve the crisis by focusing on efforts to:
- maintain and increase the pressure on Assad, including through further sanctions on the regime’s backers – Russia, Iran and Hizballah;
- secure a comprehensive approach to the crisis. ISIL will only be defeated if anti-ISIL and anti-Assad activities are pursued in parallel, and in closer coordination with moderate forces on the ground;
- advocate for the protection of civilians. Moderate governance will struggle to take hold when there is a constant threat of aerial bombardment from the Assad regime; and
- assist the development of moderate governance on the ground by working closely with the Interim Government and Assistance Coordination Unit.
Read the full text of the letter below or download the PDF.
Ambassadors to the EU Political and Security Committee
16 February 2015
On behalf of The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, I thank the EU and all its Member States for their steadfast support to the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian people as we work to achieve our shared goal: the establishment of a peaceful, democratic Syria free of the terror of extremists and the tyranny of the Assad regime that foments extremism. The EU’s humanitarian effort, in particular, has saved lives. To this end, the National Coalition welcomes the announcement at the 9 February Foreign Affairs Committee of a new EU regional strategy for Syria/Iraq and to deal with the threat of ISIL.
The crisis is now entering its fifth year. Over 200,000 of our compatriots have been killed; 12 million Syrians are in need of aid; 7.6m have been internally displaced; and 3.2m have fled the country. This is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
The Assad regime is the primary cause of this catastrophe. His brutal response to legitimate calls for freedom and democracy has devastated Syria and unleashed instability across the region. The regime’s deliberate efforts to stoke extremism, and the instability and lawlessness it has generated, have incubated and fuelled extremism, which is a threat to the entire world. Last month’s tragic events in Paris were a sad reminder of the global risk.
We are therefore faced with – and have been fighting – the dual and interlinked threats of terror and tyranny. There can be no sustainable defeat of extremism unless we tackle both threats – ISIL and the Assad regime – in parallel. A sequential approach will not work. A so-called “ISIL-first” approach that fails to address the underlying cause of ISIL’s growth in Syria will only further strengthen the Assad regime, weaken Syria’s moderates and serve as a recruiting tool for extremists, including the thousands of foreign fighters from European states.
To succeed, the international community must work with the Syrian National Coalition and our affiliated armed groups on a comprehensive approach to: (a) defeat ISIL militarily; (b) remove the root cause of extremism – the Assad regime; and (c) put in place the moderate governance that will ensure that there can be no resurgence of extremism.
The Syrian National Coalition is active on each of these fronts by working to:
(i) prepare for the political track. We have been engaging constructively with UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura as his plans evolve and ahead of his briefing to the UN Security Council on 17 February. In parallel we are continuously developing our own transition plans. On 14 February, we adopted a plan on the basic principles for a political settlement in Syria. The plan reaffirms our commitment to the same values shared across Europe, including pluralism, democracy, rule of law and adherence to Internal Humanitarian and Human Rights law in a future Syria. We take seriously all efforts genuinely aimed at ending the violence and promoting transition in Syria on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué and on the basis of mutual consent – the Geneva Communiqué remains the only process agreed by the P5, the Arab League and the parties to the conflict;
(ii) broaden and deepen our membership. The Syrian National Coalition is already a diverse community. We are committed to broadening it still further, including intensifying efforts to build common ground with other opposition groups;
(iii) intensify our efforts to provide services inside Syria. The Interim Government and Assistance Coordination Unit are working hard to coordinate the delivery of assistance to Syrians in need, particularly those who face displacement. As part of our “a warm touch” campaign, we provided heating fuel to over 28,000 Syrian families living in Aleppo, Daraa, Homs, Idlib, Latakia, Rural Damascus, and Quneitra, as well as to refugee camps in Lebanon. We are also continuing to move forward with our efforts to establish the headquarters of our Interim Government inside Syria; and
(iv) coordinate with colleagues in the interim Ministry of Defense to establish a moderate Syrian National Army capable of ensuring high-level political command and control. Moderate, non-sectarian forces are the key to undermining ISIL’s strongholds in Syria—just as Iraq’s moderate, non-sectarian forces are the key to undermining ISIL’s stronghold in Iraq. To date, however, sufficient support for our forces on the ground has not been forthcoming.
The EU has played a key role in the execution of strategy in Syria. As Member States discuss next steps with implementing a new EU regional strategy for Syria, the Coalition urges a focus on efforts to:
(i) maintain and increase the pressure on Assad. A political solution can only be possible when the regime feels sufficient pressure to compel it to negotiate a transition. Clear and consistent anti-Assad rhetoric is essential – talk of accommodating him as a “lesser evil” only emboldens him and prolongs the conflict. EU sanctions are also key to generating real pressure and have been having an impact. For example, the EU’s decision to ban the export of aviation fuel into Syria has increased the cost for the regime – and Iran – of finding alternative sources of fuel used by Assad’s air-force to indiscriminately kill thousands of Syrians. Moving forward, we need to see further targeting of Russia, Iran and Hizballah – weapons suppliers, financiers, banks, middlemen – as well as high-ranking Syrian military personnel;
(ii) push for a comprehensive approach. The EU has a considerable stake in the success of efforts to defeat ISIL. The threat to security outside the region is first and foremost in Europe. It is in Europe’s direct security interest to ensure that the overall international approach is fit for purpose. I urge the EU collectively to press its US partners to pursue anti-ISIL and anti-Assad activities in parallel, coordinate more closely with moderate forces on the ground – the frontline against terror – and increase the scale and intensity of train and equip;
(iii) advocate for the protection of civilians. Stability and moderate governance are hard to deliver under constant threat of aerial bombardment. I urge the EU to support calls for protection: safe zones, no-fly zones, or “de facto” no fly zones – whatever works; and
(iv) enhance our ability to provide moderate governance on the ground. The EU’s work with the Interim Government and Assistance Coordination Unit will ensure that moderate voices can fill the vacuum in areas where ISIL extremists are forced out.
Your Excellencies, the Syrian people can no longer afford to suffer at the hands of tyranny and terror. But nor can the region or the EU continue to be exposed to the dire security risks that the crisis in Syria has generated. Together, we can defeat both the causes and consequences of the extremist threat. With your help, the EU’s role will be decisive.
Please accept, your Excellencies, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Representative to the EU
National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces