The EU has unveiled a plan to support post-war reconstruction of Syria. The EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini called for a "proxy peace" backed by the international community ahead of an April conference in Brussels.
Mogherini told reporters at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday that "there is much the EU is ready to do," using aid and reconstruction, plus diplomatic efforts among Syria's neighbors.
Her comments came on the same day that separate Russia-led talks on Syria broke down due to a boycott by rebel forces backed by Turkey.
"Too many times the international community has not prepared the post-conflict period in time. This time we want to be ready," Mogherini said.
The EU has consistently backed UN efforts to end the devastating conflict in Syria, which has cost an estimated 320,000 lives and displaced millions since 2011 when protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad descended into civil war.
A future democratic Syria
Ahead of a planned April 5 Syria conference in Brussels, Mogherini released proposals ranging from helping restore basic services - water, health and education - to showing that peace was providing real benefits.
She said the UN-led talks are an alternative to "continued conflict or continued autocratic rule" and that post-war Syria should be democratic and give wide political representation to its various social groups.
"The EU could support the drafting of a new constitution and the organization of elections, notably through assistance to election management and an EU electoral observation mission," she said.
Aiming for a concerted international effort
The war continues largely due to the international community's failure to agree on how to end it, with the US and Russia - and their respective regional allies - supporting rival sides.
Backed by Russia's increasing military involvement, Assad appears to have the upper hand in the war. The exodus of people has also affected the EU directly, as it took in some 1.6 million refugees - mostly from Syria - and migrants in 2014-16.
Mogherini has for months been talking to Middle East players including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Lebanon, seeking to find a fundamental common ground between them on what the future peace could look like.
"I believe there can be a space for all international players and especially all regional actors... (to) see that it's far more convenient at this moment to turn this into a proxy peace and allow Syria to restart somehow with a political transition that will be needed," Mogherini told reporters.
Assad's future is the key question, with the various rebel groups backed by the US and Turkey demanding that he step down in any settlement while longtime ally Russia has backed him militarily against the rebels.
"The EU is looking beyond the current situation as a dividend for peace that could encourage parties in Syria to make necessary compromises," she said, adding that the EU should play a leading role in post-conflict Syria to avoid the mistakes made in Libya and Iraq.
The former Italian foreign minister said the EU was ready to do its bit once a "genuine political transition" from Assad's rule was underway.
EU out of the loop
The EU does acknowledge that the war could go on and could lead to the break-up of Syria along sectarian lines or Assad regaining military control of the entire country.
The 28-nation bloc - which Mogherini said has spent 9.4 billion euros on various Syria-related projects over the last six years - has threatened not to pay for reconstruction work should Moscow and Damascus crush the Western-backed opposition entirely.
jbh/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)