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EU foreign policy chief dismisses Russia’s superpower status, doubts Trump will pay Syria bill

It is difficult to call Russia a superpower: EU foreign policy chief

Neither Russia nor the U.S. can be relied upon to stump up what will be a hefty reconstruction bill in Syria, according to the EU's foreign policy chief.

While acknowledging that Russia is a major global player, European Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini told a panel hosted by CNBC at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan on Saturday that the country was weak economically.

"If you look at the state of the Russian economy today it is difficult to call it a superpower," said Mogherini, who is also the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy. She noted that its gross domestic product (GDP) was smaller than that of most of the individual European Union member states.

"Russia is investing a lot when it comes to defense and military activities but when it comes to economic power – forget it," she added, drilling home her point that countries closer to the troubles, such as those in Europe and the Middle East, must not underestimate the role they must play in restoring Syria to a functioning state once a political solution has been found.

"My impression is that the new trends in Washington are not exactly those of paying the bill – am I wrong?" she continued, giving another reason for why Syria's closer neighbors must be prepared to step up financially when the time comes.

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'We're losing a generation'

Economic power aside, Mogherini's fellow panelists emphasized the importance of the U.S. and Russia engaging on a political level in order to stop the ongoing tragedy in Syria.

"Six years of civil war, 400,000 people killed, chemical weapons used against the people of Syria, 3 million children out of school … We're losing a generation if this continues," declared Norwegian Foreign Minister, Borge Brende.

"I think there is a way to break this impasse," he added, agreeing with German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, that bringing those two powers to the table was the essential first step.

"If both of them have a common view on which way we should proceed in negotiations, the others will feel enough pressure to sit down and to negotiate seriously. This is crucial for progress," asserted von der Leyen.

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The German defense minister also spoke of the necessity for a structured economic rebuilding plan to follow closely behind a political solution and to enjoy support from many countries, not just the U.S. and its closest allies.

"Without humongous private investment it will not be manageable to create what is most necessary in the region which is 'jobs, jobs, jobs' for people to have prospects," she warned.

'We may be late or too late'

Meantime, whatever happens at this point may be too late, warned Peter Maurer, president, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"The fear is not so much with President (Donald) Trump or (Vladimir) Putin or anyone else in the region but more to discover that we may be late or too late. I am not sure by what we are witnessing on the ground in terms of extremist dynamics that this is easily stoppable even if the powers in the region and the global powers converge politically," Maurer pessimistically observed.

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"We may have waited too long or a very long time to really get serious in terms of finding political solutions to the problems that are fueling the violence, the displacements, the humanitarian suffering," he added.

Maurer's views were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Al Safadi, who highlighted that 20 percent of Jordan's population is now made up of Syrian refugees who must be protected from the type of despair that would cause them to turn to violent extremism.

Al Safadi called for stakeholders to come up with a plan to ensure the next generation of displaced Syrians are shielded from violence based on ignorance and devastating circumstances such as a permanent lack of economic opportunity – for the sake of both the refugees themselves and their neighbors.

"Recent history has shown that the security of Europe begins in the Middle East … If we take care of that, I think we will have taken care of our collective security going forward," he concluded.

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