The Cable

Report: Syrian regime being aided from 12 countries

Entities from at least a dozen countries are helping supply the Syrian regime and military with various levels of support, enabling the Syrian government's war machine to continue functioning, according to a new report by Human Rights First, a New York and Washington-based NGO.

"President Obama has made stopping mass atrocities a ‘core national security interest' of the United States, which manifestly applies to Syria. As neighboring countries struggle to absorb the nearly one million refugees and regional powers become more involved in the conflict, the possibility of wider violence and instability looms," the report reads. "Amid calls to arm the rebels, we urge the United States to approach the conflict from the other end: to choke off the flow of arms, resources, and money to Assad." 

The report was released in conjunction with Friday's two-year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian uprising, which has now cost as many as 80,000 innocent lives, destroyed the Syrian economy, and displaced millions of Syrians inside and outside the country.

Human Rights First compiled data and first-hand accounts over several months to detail the sources of various types of support for the Syrian regime -- sources that go way beyond Iran and Russia, the Assad government's chief external backers. Here are some highlights:

  • Russia has provided military equipment, military advisors, diesel fuel, gasoil, and financial assistance 
  • Iran has provided military equipment, advisors, and personnel, diesel fuel, and financial assistance
  • North Korea has provided missile technology, other arms, and technical assistance 
  • Venezuela and Angola have sent, or contracted to send, diesel fuel
  • Private entities in Georgia, Lebanon, and Cyprus have reportedly sent or attempted to send diesel fuel 
  • An oil trader in South Africa brokered Angola's fuel deal with Syria
  • A trader in the UAE provided Internet filtering devices made by California's Blue Coat Systems, Inc
  • Italy's Finmeccanica provided radio technology and technical assistance through the Syrian unit of Intracom-Telecom, a Greek company
  • Italy's Area SpA provided an Internet surveillance system, which relied on technology from California's NetApp Inc. and Hewlett Packard, France's Qosmos SA, and Germany's Ultimaco Safeware AG 

The report notes that the supply chain supporting Assad passes through the legal jurisdictions of several countries where the United States has influence, and that several of the ships used to supply the Syrian regime fly flags of countries that are U.S. allies.

"Given its relationships with these countries -- as well as its political, economic, and military reach -- the United States is particularly well positioned to disrupt the supply chains," the report stated. "U.S. officials could and should enlist these countries in a systematic effort to deny Assad the support that is enabling atrocities." 

Najib Ghadbian, the special representative to the United States from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, endorsed the report in a statement to The Cable.

"The international community should heed the Human Rights First report and take action to reduce the violence in Syria by cutting off the regime's capacity for destruction," he said. "Human Rights First has demonstrated that several actors in the international community still provide the regime with funds and means to orchestrate their violent campaign with impunity." 

At Friday's State Department briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland noted the anniversary of the beginning of the revolution and said that the people of Syria are in dire straits, but she defended the administration's policy, which has amounted to limited sanctions and humanitarian aid to both regime-controlled areas and parts of the opposition.

"I think nobody is satisfied with where we are in Syria, which is why the secretary [of state John Kerry], when he went to Rome for a meeting of the Friends of Syria and to meet with Syrian Opposition Coalition President [Moaz] Al-Khatib, encouraged everyone to do more," Nuland said. "And in fact, we are doing more on our own side, and as he said during the trip, we believe that the totality of increased effort by the international community ought to begin to make a difference into Assad's calculation."

In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the administration's policy as reinforcing "a dangerous and unfair fight" in which the Syrian government receives lots of international military support and the opposition struggles to defend civilians from the regime's onslaught.

"As the United States and the international community stand idle, the consequences are clear. Syria will become a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, threatening both our ally Israel and our NATO ally Turkey. With or without Assad, the country will continue devolve into a full-scale civil war that is increasingly sectarian, repressive, and unstable," he said.

"Meantime, more and more ungoverned space will come under the control of al Qaeda and its allies," McCain said. "Violence and radicalism will spill even more into Lebanon and Iraq, fueling sectarian conflicts that are still burning in both countries. Syria will turn into a battlefield between Sunni and Shia extremists, each backed by foreign powers, which will ignite sectarian tensions from North Africa to the Gulf and risk a wider regional conflict. This is the course we are on in Syria, and in the absence of international action, the situation will only get worse."

The Cable

Senate Republicans battle to influence Egypt aid

Four different Senate Republicans have four different ideas on how to alter U.S. aid to Egypt, in a struggle that is also becoming about the future of Republican leadership on foreign policy.

The Senate is working now on the next Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from April until October -- and aid to Egypt is the main foreign policy issue likely to be attached to the funding measure. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) all have introduced amendments to the CR dealing with Egypt aid, but they all have competing ideas on how to condition it in light of Egypt's changing security challenges and the fragile path to democracy under the government led by Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy.

Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also introduced an amendment on Egypt aid, making it five total amendments that are now the subject of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations.

"We have five different amendments that have been offered on Egypt," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Thursday, lamenting that the Senate was confronted with tackling the Egypt aid issue in a rush on a temporary funding bill. Reid doesn't really want to do Egypt policy on this bill at all.

"This is a CR for six months. We have a functioning Foreign Relations Committee. That's where this should take place," he said. "We all have concerns about Egypt. Our funding in Egypt, maintaining stability in the region, supporting Israel. We have, as I've indicated, five senators who have filed five separate, distinct amendments. And literally staffs with senators have worked all day coming up with an amendment that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. It hasn't been done. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but it hasn't been done. I would again remind senators that this is a Continuing Resolution. The long-term solution to the situation in the Middle East is not a short-term CR. Whatever we do on this bill would expire in six months anyway."

But despite Reid's reluctance, senators are likely to coalesce around one or two Egypt aid amendments that could get a vote on the Senate floor next week. The first senator to introduce an Egypt amendment was Rubio, who spoke about it in an interview this week with The Cable.

"This is not about cancelling foreign aid to Egypt per se. This is about restructuring it in a way that lines up with the interests of the taxpayers of the United States of America," Rubio said. "Their real security needs are largely internal and we want to recalibrate our military aid to Egypt to meet their actual needs. Egypt doesn't need tanks, it doesn't need jet fighters, it's not going to be invaded by neighbors in the near future."

For Rubio, the Egypt amendment is his opening salvo in what promises to be a year of increasing involvement in an array of foreign policy issues. He promised he would have similar amendments in the future on aid to other countries as well.

"Foreign aid is important because it increases our influence and in particular our ability to influence things around the world to advance our interests. But foreign aid is not charity.... That means that every single dime we give in foreign aid should be conditioned," he said.

Rubio is also concerned about the Morsy government's commitment to the Camp David accords, their unwillingness or inability to maintain security in the Sinai Peninsula, and their treatment of opposition parties and non-governmental organizations.

"We've heard some of the comments of the president of Egypt and some of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. It's downright offensive, and that's their ideology and we've seen some of that come through in their public policy," he said.

Rubio's original amendment would have blocked disbursements of economic support funds (ESF) and new foreign military financing for Egypt until the administration could certify that the Morsy government was enacting economic and political reforms, not restricting religious and human rights, not undermining free and fair elections, improving its treatment of foreign NGOs, fully implementing the peace treaty with Israel, taking all available actions to end smuggling into Gaza and combat terrorism in the Sinai.

The Rubio amendment required the administration to certify that the government of Egypt had apportioned specific amounts of aid to counterterrorism and the Sinai but gave the administration the authority to waive the new aid restrictions every six months.

The McCain amendment takes a different, less confrontational approach. It only would impact foreign military financing, not economic support funds, and clearly states that any change in Egypt military aid should only affect new contracts, not existing contracts for items already in the manufacturing pipeline.

The McCain amendment requires the administration to report back to Congress about how the Egyptian military is spending the money and how it might be spent better in the security interests of both Egypt and the United States. But there's no cut off of aid and no waiver authority. Last year, Egyptians got angry when Congress imposed new restrictions on military aid to Cairo, only to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waive them anyway.

After McCain filed his amendment, Rubio made some changes to his amendment to bring it closer in line with McCain's. Rubio's new amendment now conditions ESF funds in a way that's closer to what's already in present law. Backroom negotiations between the two offices are ongoing.

The Leahy amendment is seen as the Democrats' attempt to take what they liked of the Republican amendments and try to reach a compromise text. It most closely follows McCain's approach by requiring the administration to report on the military aid spending but also requires the administration to report on political reform, human rights, and NGO treatment in Egypt.

Paul's amendment would cut off all assistance to Egypt until Morsy says in English and Arabic that he intends to uphold the Camp David accords. Inhofe's amendment would conditionally suspend the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Inhofe has also co-sponsored the Paul amendment.

"For months, I have been calling for President Obama and his administration to hold president Morsy accountable for failing to promote promised democracy in Egypt and for the instability in the region," Inhofe said on the Senate floor this week. "Under President Morsy and his radical Muslim Brotherhood, the United States' historically good relationship with Egypt is at a standstill."