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Civil War Has Left Syria In Ruins And Its People In Poverty

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week marks 10 years of conflict and civil war in Syria. Activists say more than half a million people have died. And the survivors live in ruins. According to the United Nations, almost 80% of Syrians live in poverty and 60% are food insecure. It's the worst food security situation Syria has ever seen. Jomana Qaddour heads the Syria portfolio for the Atlantic Council. And she told Noel King that every part of the country is affected.

JOMANA QADDOUR: So for those living in regime-held areas, they are dealing with a massive shortage of bread, of basic food staples, an economy that does not look to be opening up or improving anytime soon. The lira actually dropped, I believe, to 4,000 liras to the dollar last week. And if you compare that to the pre-war level of 50 lira per dollar, you can have a basic idea of how bad the economy is.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Do you see any hope for the country's economy if the war does not come to an end? Like, what is the way forward here?

QADDOUR: I mean, the way forward is - it's complicated and it's simple at the same time. I mean, the reality is that the sanctions imposed both by the United States and the Europeans is really tied to the activity of the Assad regime and the activity of its allies. And sadly, the Assad regime and its allies have not budged despite the fact that the Syrian people throughout Syria have continued to suffer. You know, the United States has said that it is committed to a political resolution of this conflict. I think, unfortunately, Assad and his allies are very much committed to a military one. At least that's the way that all their actions have indicated. Now, my hope is that this administration does put the political muscle necessary to really push Russia, Iran, Assad to make some compromises and move things forward.

KING: What would that look like, though? You mentioned political muscle. It sounds like what you're saying is sanctions hurt Syrian people in some ways. If the U.S. is not to use sanctions, what options does the U.S. have for engagement?

QADDOUR: I'm not someone who believes that removing the sanctions are going to improve the behavior of the Assad regime. So I don't...

KING: OK. OK.

QADDOUR: I'm not advocating for their removal. I do think having the United States appoint someone of a very high level who has U.N. experience, who knows how to talk to the Russians, the Iranians, as well as our European allies, I think could go a long way in finding a lasting solution to this conflict.

KING: What do you think as you reflect on the last 10 years? And where do you imagine we might be in the next 10?

QADDOUR: I mean, it's been very hard, I think, to work on a conflict where, you know, just when you think it can't get any worse, it actually does. But I think, despite all the darkness, a couple of weeks ago, I think we saw a very important step forward. And that was in Koblenz, Germany, where we saw the first convicted former member of the Syrian regime who was prosecuted for war crimes that he committed in Syria. I believe 30 victims launched that lawsuit. He received a verdict - a sentence - excuse me - of 4 1/2 years, which, to many, was a bit frustrating, to say the least, that he committed war crimes and was only met with 4 1/2 years.

But I spoke to many Syrians who said the important thing is that our history, our torture, our - the brutality that we've suffered has been documented in a real court in a country that abides by the rule of law. I think justice is going to be very important as a tool of giving Syrians some sense of the feeling of being heard and seen throughout these trials. So - but for the next 10 years, I do definitely see that increasing moving forward, making it very difficult for anyone - even if we can't get a hold of Assad and hold him accountable in the next 10 years, making it very difficult for anyone who's ever helped him in torturing, executing, murdering innocent Syrians to be able to ever move around in peace throughout Europe, throughout the world, making their lives harder. And I think that's going to be very important.

KING: Thank you so much for your time.

QADDOUR: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Noel spoke with Jomana Qaddour, who is at the Atlantic Council and the co-founder of the organization Syria Relief and Development. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.