WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has used a closely guarded communications channel with America’s top general to propose the two former Cold War foes cooperate to rebuild Syria and repatriate refugees to the war-torn country, according to a US government memo.
The proposal was sent in a July 19 letter by Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, to US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the memo which was seen by Reuters.
The Russian plan, which has not been previously reported, has received an icy reception in Washington. The memo said the US policy was only to support such efforts if there were a political solution to end Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, including steps like UN-supervised elections.
“The proposal argues that the Syrian regime lacks the equipment, fuel, other material, and funding needed to rebuild the country in order to accept refugee returns,” according to the memo, which specified that the proposal related to Syrian government-held areas of the country.
The United States has drawn a line on reconstruction assistance, saying it should be tied to a process that includes UN-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria. It blames Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for Syria’s devastation.
The Syria conflict has killed an estimated half a million people, driven some 5.6 million people out of the country and displaced around 6.6 million within it.
Rebuilding Syria will also be a massive effort, costing at least $250 billion, according one UN estimate.