Arabs ease Assad’s isolation as US looks elsewhere – Times of India

BEIRUT: Whereas Bashar al-Assad continues to be shunned by the West who blame him for a decade of brutal battle in Syria, a shift is below means within the Center East the place Arab allies of the USA are bringing him in from the chilly by reviving financial and diplomatic ties.
The extension of Assad’s two-decade-old presidency in an election in Could did little to interrupt his pariah standing amongst Western states, however fellow Arab leaders are coming to phrases with the truth that he retains a stable grip on energy.
The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan has firmed up a perception amongst Arab leaders that they should chart their very own course. Anticipating a extra hands-off strategy from Washington, now preoccupied by the problem of China, Arab leaders are pushed by their very own priorities, notably learn how to rehabilitate economies hammered by years of battle and Covid-19.
Political issues additionally loom giant in Arab capitals resembling Cairo, Amman and Abu Dhabi. These embrace their ties with Assad’s strongest backer, Russia, which has been urgent for Syria’s reintegration, and learn how to counter the affect carved out in Syria by Iran and Turkey.
Turkey and its assist for Sunni Islamists throughout the area – together with a swathe of northern Syria that continues to be exterior Assad’s grasp – is of specific concern to Arab rulers who could make frequent trigger with Damascus towards Islamist teams.
However whereas the indicators of Arab rapprochement with Damascus are rising – King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to Assad for the primary time in a decade this month – US coverage will stay a complicating issue.
Washington says there was no change in its coverage in direction of Syria, which calls for a political transition as set out in a Safety Council decision. US sanctions focusing on Damascus, tightened below President Donald Trump, nonetheless pose a critical impediment to commerce.
However in Washington, analysts say Syria has hardly been a international coverage precedence for President Joe Biden‘s administration. They observe his concentrate on countering China and that his administration has but to use sanctions below the so-called Caesar Act, which got here into drive final yr with the intent of including to the stress on Assad.
After being warned towards coping with Damascus by the Trump administration, Arab states are urgent the difficulty once more.
“U.S. allies within the Arab world have been encouraging Washington to raise the siege on Damascus and permit for its reintegration into the Arab fold,” mentioned David Lesch, a Syria skilled at Trinity College in Texas. “It seems the Biden administration, to some extent, is listening.”
It marks a shift from the early years of the battle when Syria was expelled from the Arab League and states together with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates backed a few of the rebels that fought Assad.
The last decade-long battle, which spiralled out of a preferred rebellion towards Assad in the course of the “Arab Spring”, has killed tons of of 1000’s of individuals, uprooted half the inhabitants and compelled hundreds of thousands into adjoining states and Europe as refugees.
Anti-Assad rebels nonetheless have a foothold within the north, with assist from Turkey, whereas the east and northeast is managed by Kurdish-led forces backed by the USA.
However whereas the battle is unresolved, Assad is again in command of most of Syria thanks largely to Russia and Iran, which had been all the time extra dedicated to his survival than Washington was to his elimination, even when chemical weapons had been fired on insurgent areas.
Jordan, Syria’s neighbour to the south, has been main the pack on the Arab coverage shift with an ailing financial system and a rocky patch in relations with its rich Gulf neighbour Saudi Arabia.
The border between Syria and Jordan was totally reopened for commerce final month, and Amman has been a driving drive behind a deal to pipe Egyptian pure gasoline to Lebanon by way of Syria, with an obvious U.S. nod of approval.
“When Jordan breaks these boundaries and establishes ties and it is at this tempo, there might be nations that can comply with swimsuit,” Samih al-Maaytah, a former Jordanian minister and political analyst, instructed Al Mamlaka, a state-owned broadcaster.
The crossing was as soon as plied by tons of of vehicles a day shifting items between Europe, Turkey and the Gulf. Reviving commerce might be a shot within the arm for Jordan and Syria, whose financial system is in deep disaster. It also needs to assist Lebanon, now struggling one of many sharpest financial depressions in trendy historical past.
“I’m completely certain the Jordanians really feel that the U.S. won’t sanction them,” Jim Jeffrey, former U.S. Particular Envoy for Syria below Trump, instructed Reuters.
“There’s an incredible buzz amongst media, amongst associates within the area, that the U.S. is now not aggressively sanctioning Assad below the Caesar Act or different issues.”
The temper was mirrored finally month’s U.N. Common Meeting, the place Egyptian and Syrian international ministers met for the primary time in a decade, and on the Expo 2020 Dubai exhibition, the place the Syrian and Emirati financial system ministers mentioned the revival of a bilateral enterprise council.
The UAE had invited Syria to Expo 2020 regardless of makes an attempt to “demonise the regime”, mentioned Syria’s ambassador to the UAE, Ghassan Abbas, chatting with Reuters on the Syria pavilion the place the theme was “We Will Rise Collectively”.
“Is there a brand new strategy in coping with Syria? Sure.”
Aaron Stein, Director of Analysis at International Coverage Analysis Institute, mentioned the Biden administration “isn’t enthusiastic about expending diplomatic capital to stop regional governments from doing what they suppose is finest vis-a-vis the regime”.
U.S. coverage in Syria is now centered on combating Islamic State militants and humanitarian help, he mentioned.
A U.S. State Division spokesperson mentioned: “What now we have not finished and won’t do is specific any assist for efforts to normalise or rehabilitate the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, raise a single sanction on Syria, or change our place to oppose the reconstruction of Syria till there’s irreversible progress in direction of a political answer.”
Whereas many US allies within the area pursue contemporary ties with Damascus, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia nonetheless seems hesitant.
“The massive effort is to get Saudi Arabia and Syria into some sort of reconciliation, and I believe Saudi is coming round, they’re simply ready for the US,” mentioned Joshua Landis, Syria specialist on the College of Oklahoma.

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