By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
The United States is providing an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees already living outside of Syria and the several million displaced within the war-torn country, Secretary of State John Kerry says.
The additional funding brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance for those affected by the civil strife to approximately $510 million. The funding is providing emergency medical care and medical supplies, childhood immunizations, food, clean water and relief supplies to those most affected by the crisis.
Speaking to journalists alongside Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino in Rome May 9, Kerry said the additional assistance will support the activities in Syria of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. Children’s Fund, and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, as well as parts of the regional refugee response in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
“In the end, my friends, the solution to this crisis is not more humanitarian assistance. In the end, it is a political solution that reduces the humanitarian crisis itself,” Kerry said. “And it is an effort to try to end the bloodshed.”
According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the ongoing civil conflict.
The crisis began March 15, 2011, largely as popular, peaceful protests, but expanded into a civil conflict in response to a violent crackdown by the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Assad deployed the Syrian army in April 2011 to halt the nationwide protests. The protesters have demanded the resignation of Assad and his regime.
Kerry told reporters that he and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Rome discussed the latest reports of the nearly 2,000 Syrian refugees pouring into Jordan each night, as well as the staggering number of refugees fleeing to Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.
“What the United States wants, what Jordan wants, what Italy wants, is an end to the slaughter,” Kerry said.
The growing consensus among world leaders is that the current path in Syria is unsustainable, and it “will only lead to greater bloodshed, greater destruction, greater instability, a greater humanitarian crisis, a greater challenge to the stability of neighboring states, to the potential of extremists becoming stronger, and the potential for chemical weapons falling into the hands of dangerous people,” Kerry added.
“Those are all strategic interests that should motivate all of us to try to come to a negotiating table to find that political solution,” he said.
At a 2012 Geneva conference on the Syrian crisis, dubbed Geneva 1, all of the nations participating agreed that a transition government with full executive authority must happen in Syria and by mutual consent. Kerry said the Geneva 1 nations will have to create a new dynamic to try to find this transitional government.
Kerry met for five hours in Moscow May 7 with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the Obama administration’s long-term goal of a peaceful transition of power to end civil strife in Syria. Following the meeting, Kerry and Lavrov announced plans to convene an international conference on Syria in the coming weeks with the aim of bringing together the Assad’s government and opposition representatives for peace talks.
Also at the May 9 press briefing, Kerry announced that he would be making his fourth trip in 2013 to the Middle East for meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The trip is expected later in May.
“I plan to continue this discussion in the weeks to come, and I will be traveling back to Israel and the West Bank in two weeks in order to meet with both [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu as well as [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas,” he said.
Kerry said that for 30 years or more there has been pent-up demand to try to resolve the issues of the Middle East, and that when there is a vacuum created, bad things can happen. “Things happen that work against the possibilities of peace,” he added.
The United States and allies are working through threshold questions, Kerry said, toward restarting long-suspended peace talks. The parties involved understand the contours of the two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace, he added.
“Israel needs guarantees for security, the Palestinians need guarantees for a state that they can be proud of, that is a contiguous state,” Kerry told reporters.
Kerry said he believes that both parties are serious and that the process going on now is examining the possibilities legitimately with the Palestinians and the Israelis.