US says it will not normalise relations with Syria’s Assad

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The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-engaging with other countries in the Middle East in recent months after years of isolation [File: Syrian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Washington ‘does not support’ push to normalise ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s gov’t, State Department says.

Washington, DC – The United States will not normalise relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the State Department has said, as many of Washington’s Arab allies re-establish ties with Damascus.

The State Department said late on Thursday that top US diplomat Antony Blinken discussed a recent meeting in Amman between Syria and its Arab neighbours during a phone call with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi.

“Secretary Blinken made clear that the United States will not normalize relations with the Assad regime and does not support others normalizing until there is authentic, UN-facilitated political progress in line with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2254,” the department said.

The 2015 resolution calls for free and fair elections in Syria under UN supervision.

The foreign ministers of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan met for talks in the Jordanian capital on Monday amid a push to bring al-Assad’s government back into the Arab fold.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League and ostracised by regional powerbrokers in 2011 after its crackdown on Arab Spring protests, which turned into a protracted war. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

As the Syrian government regained control over large parts of the country – with support from Iran and Russia – some Arab countries began to soften their stance towards Damascus.

The US, however, has maintained that it would not change its opposition to al-Assad without an inclusive political settlement to the conflict.

The State Department said on Thursday that Blinken expressed gratitude to Jordan for the “hosting of refugees and reinforced the US position that Syria must create conditions including greatly improved respect for human rights that would motivate refugees to return in a safe, voluntary, and dignified manner”.

Earlier this week, Blinken said the US was “engaged” with the Syrian government to secure the release of Austin Tice, an American journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2012. US officials have accused the Syrian government of detaining Tice, a claim that Damascus has denied.

“We’re extensively engaged with regard to Austin – engaged with Syria, engaged with third countries – seeking to find a way to get him home. And we’re not going to relent until we do,” Blinken said on Wednesday.

Because the US does not recognise al-Assad’s government as legitimate, it was not clear how the purported direct discussions between Washington and Damascus were taking place.

In recent months, relations have warmed between Syria and several Arab countries. In February, Egypt’s foreign minister visited Damascus for the first time since 2011, and last month, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat also made a trip to the Syrian capital and met al-Assad.

The rapprochement came amid a Chinese-brokered detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Syrian government remains under heavy US sanctions aimed at isolating the country economically in response to widely documented human rights violations.

While the US has said it discourages its allies from normalising ties with Syria, it has not penalised countries that move closer to al-Assad’s government.

The United Arab Emirates, a key US partner in the Gulf region, reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, and last year, it became the first Arab state to host al-Assad since the start of the war more than a decade ago.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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