In a letter published in today’s Washington Post, 12 diplomats, former State Department officials, judges, professors, journalists and ambassadors appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama to establish Protected Zones in northern and southern Syria.
But is “a negotiated settlement between [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and the moderate opposition” possible or indeed what the opposition is seeking?
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To the President and Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives:
We urge you to establish Protected Zones in northern and southern Syria that are safe from attacks by the Assad regime and ISIL. Establishing Protected Zones would alleviate the severity of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by:
- Ending the killing of innocent civilians in these regions;
- Curtailing egregious human rights abuses;
- Enabling humanitarian organizations supported and funded by the Administration and Congress to deliver emergency assistance in safety;
- Allowing refugees to begin returning from neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon;
- Facilitating reconstruction projects in protected towns; and
- Encouraging opposition-led democratic governance to grow deeper roots.
Protected Zones can be integrated with the Administration’s air campaign against ISIL to tip the military balance away from Assad, giving him an incentive to reach a negotiated settlement with the moderate opposition.
Protected Zones should be established in three provinces: Aleppo -- which includes Syria’s largest city of Aleppo -- and Idlib in the north along the Turkish border; and Deraa province bordering Jordan. No U.S. ground forces would be involved. U.S. air power already engaged in the fight against ISIL and partnered with Free Syrian Army ground forces would provide necessary security in the Protected Zones.
The goal would be to help create and defend the three designated Protected Zones, not oust the regime by direct U.S. force.
Once established, Protected Zones would provide a secure base for the Free Syrian Army to take the offensive against ISIL while moderate opposition leaders negotiate with Assad on a transitional government.
U.S. leadership to provide air cover for Free Syrian Army defenders of designated Protected Zones could produce a humanitarian breakthrough for large numbers of Syrians, put ISIL on the defensive, and make a negotiated settlement between Assad and the moderate opposition possible.