The Cable

How the new $60 million of Syria aid is being spent

Secretary of State John Kerry announced $60 million in new U.S. aid for the Syrian opposition late last month, but the State Department has refused to detail how that money will be spent. The Cable has obtained the breakdown of the newly pledged funds.

Kerry announced the additional $60 million in aid at a Feb. 28 "Friends of Syria" meeting in Rome, a meeting the Syrian opposition coalition initially refused to attend out of frustration with what it perceives as a lack of assistance from the international community. In total, the United States has now pledged $115 million in support of the Syrian opposition.

In his announcement, Kerry said the extra aid was designed to "strengthen the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition."

"It will help war-torn communities be able to survive devastating situations with respect to sanitation, food delivery, medical care," he said. "It will speed the delivery of basic goods and services including security and education. It will help to initiate discussions with those who are providing for public order and for justice as the transition itself unfolds. And we will help the SNC, Free Syrian Army, and the civilian opposition to feed those in need and tend to the sick and the wounded."

At Wednesday's State Department press briefing, reporters demanded to know exactly how that money will be spent. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford briefed lawmakers on the plan, but outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to provide any details.

"An actual breakdown of how we'll budget it?  I'm not sure we've done that yet," Nuland said.

In fact, the State Department had already provided Congress with a detailed breakdown, obtained by The Cable, of how it intends to spend the $60 million. Here it is:

  • $10 million for Middle East Partnership Initiative programming to support local councils inside Syria.
  • $30 million to create a SOC Support Program within the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives. The OTI Syria program was established with a $5 million reprogramming in late 2012.
  • $7 million for USAID "repair and maintenance" programs to improve services (may refer to opposition controlled areas and presumably includes water, electricity, and/or public health)
  • $6 million for State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to support the their training programs for the SOC and media programs with the opposition
  • $7 million spread over various programs to support mine and unexploded ordnance safety training, transitional justice programs, and counter-sectarianism program

The State Department still won't provide details on how much if any money has been spent on giving aid directly to the FSA. Those funds are being taken from Defense Department accounts and will be used for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and other supplies for some elements of the armed opposition.

"My understanding is that we're in consultation with the FSA leaders now on exactly what they need that we might be able to provide and how we're going to get it in," Nuland said Tuesday. "I think we said at the time that we were not going to put out a public dollar figure."

"So you're not going to put it out?" a reporter asked.

"We're not," Nuland responded.

"Why? Is it embarrassing?" the reporter pressed.

"No, because this is going to be something that grows over time, and we are going to seek support from the Congress as it moves forward and as we see the needs," Nuland responded.

In Rome, Kerry said the most significant portion of the funds will go directly to the Syrian opposition but he said the United States would not be sending military-related forms of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, such as body armor, night vision goggles, and vehicles.

"What we are doing in our part of that doing more is part of a whole. Different countries are choosing to do different things, and we make this evaluation based on the whole," Kerry said.

A senior State Department official said during the trip that the goal of U.S. policy is to pressure Syrian President Bashar al Assad to stop killing his own people and move toward a political solution that includes a democratic transition in Syria.

"We need to change the calculation that Assad is making," the official said. "We also need to support those on the ground in Syria who want a democratic future that respects human rights of all Syrians, provides a place for all Syrians. So we want to support on the political side and on the military side those who represent those values."

The New York Times reported last week that on the ground in Syria, the hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that the international community has already provided are going to mostly regime controlled areas and is aiding the regime's public relations effort rather than supporting the rebel cause.

"Aid is a weapon," Omar Baylasani, a rebel commander from Idlib, told the Times. "Food supply is the winning card in the hands of the regime."

The Cable

Israeli students plan to protest Obama speech after embassy snub

The U.S. Embassy in Israel declined to invite students from a controversial university in the West Bank from attending President Barack Obama's speech in Jerusalem, prompting those students to promise a protest of the president's appearance.

After the Times of Israel reported that students from all major Israeli universities except Ariel University, based in a hotly contested West Bank settlement, were invited to Obama's March 21 address at a Jerusalem convention center, Israeli lawmakers and Ariel University students criticized the president and pledged to show up at the speech anyway. The school was upgraded to full university status last year, becoming the first Israeli major university in the West Bank and sparking a firestorm of international criticism.

"We were pretty shocked by the discrimination and by the manner in which Ariel University was given up on," Shay Shahaf, the head of the university's student union, told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, promising to protest. "In either case, we'll have a presence there."

A U.S. embassy official confirmed to The Cable that the embassy rather than the White House was in charge of the invite list but said that invitations were only extended to educational institutions that were partners in joint programs with the embassy. Ariel University is not a embassy partner, the official explained.

"We're working with institutions that are partners in joint programs with the U.S. embassy and not even all of our partners were included because we have a limited number of invitations," the official said.

Jewish Home Minister Yoni Chetboun wrote to Shapiro complaining about the snub but has not gotten any response.

"He [Obama] chose not to speak before the Knesset, saying he wasn't coming to Israel for political reasons, but at the same time decided he's meeting with students from the universities, except for Ariel University, which is a political decision. It's exclusionary," Chetboun's spokesman Ohad Cohen told The Times of Israel. "Israel decided that Ariel is a full-fledged university. So does Obama not recognize Israel's decisions?"

Some in Washington see the incident as an unforced error by the Obama administration that could cause unnecessary controversy during his first trip to Israel as president.

"This is discrimination plain and simple, and unfortunately it is also counterproductive," said Noah Pollak, executive director of the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel, which has run advertisements denouncing Obama's Israel policies. "The controversy threatens to overshadow the rest of his trip and make it about delegitimizing Israeli students because of where they go to school. Anyone who wants President Obama's trip to be successful should be asking him to correct this mistake."