UAE’s embrace of Syria could lead to more Arab overtures

Nov 10, 2021, 1:56 PM | Updated: Nov 11, 2021, 12:28 am
FILE - In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Basha...

FILE - In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, speaks with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. The visit by the United Arab Emirates top diplomat to Damascus is a major boost for Syria's President Bashar Assad who has survived the 10-year conflict, emerging weakened but still at the helm of a broken country. (SANA via AP, File)

(SANA via AP, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — A visit by the United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat this week may have turned a page for Syria’s embattled autocratic president, enabling more Arab countries to re-engage with Bashar Assad.

That would be a major shift in a region that for a decade ostracized Assad, supported his adversaries and worked with the U.S. to seek a negotiated settlement of the Syria conflict.

Syria’s civil war has displaced half of its population, killed hundreds of thousands and driven the country’s economy into the ground.

Following his surprise four-hour trip to Syria’s capital of Damascus on Tuesday, the Emirati foreign minister headed to Jordan, which has also reopened channels with Syria after a decade-long rupture.

In Amman, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met Wednesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the two discussed “efforts to reach political solutions to the crisis in the region,” a royal court statement said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi later told CNN that the kingdom, which had hosted Assad’s armed opposition for years, needed to be practical and consider its national interests, at a time when a resolution to the Syria conflict seems elusive.

Jordan has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and is experiencing a sharp economic downturn, including rising unemployment. It recently reopened its borders with Syria, exchanged state visits and restored flights between Amman and Damascus.

If such contacts between Syria and some of the Arab nations lead to formal reconciliation, it would be a boon for Syria’s struggling economy, including a tanking national currency and dried up government coffers. Syria will also require massive investments in reconstruction.

Rapprochement would also mean an Arab push into Syria, where Iran — the main rival of Arab Gulf nations — has had a presence on the ground through proxy militias for years.

As Washington appears to be disengaging from the region, withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and reorienting its focus toward the strategic challenges posed by a rising China, Arab players are stepping up their game in the conflict-ridden region.

“Everyone is talking to everyone,” said one Arab diplomat based in the Middle East, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. For example, Iraq has been hosting talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, its regional archival.

Now the Emirates’ embrace of Syria is a test for whether re-engaging Syria’s strongman could possibly lead to some concessions that years of sanctions and boycott have failed to realize.

Bringing Syria back into the Arab fold could reduce Iranian and Turkish influence. Dealing with Assad, whose forces have been blamed for most of the war’s atrocities, appears to be a risk worth taking as the Emiratis seek to hedge their bets in the region.

“If we can have peace with various countries, Syria should be one of the most significant and important ones in the Middle East,” said Amjad Taha, an Emirati analyst. “Syria should not be left alone. If the Iranians are there and if the Russians are there, so should the Arabs.”

The Emirates are pursuing high-stakes foreign policy, normalizing relations with Israel and taking steps to engage Qatar and Turkey diplomatically after years of a political standoff, vitriol and support for opposing sides in regional conflicts.

Syria’s ruling party mouthpiece hailed the visit of the Emirati foreign minister as a “genuine pan-Arab step” after what it described as years of illusions that Assad and his government could be replaced through war.

The Emirates have been lobbying in international forums such as the World Health Organization for more aid for Syria and could expand such calls. The UAE could also encourage Syrian-Emirati businesses if there are no threats of the use of sanctions to block it.

Arab countries will be watching to see what the Emirates get out of this resumption of relations before rushing in.

There are already Emirati-led efforts to lobby Arab countries to bring Syria back into the Arab League, said Taha, the analyst, calling it a major effort despite few Arab objections. The next summit is in Algeria early next year.

Damascus could offer gestures that indicate a reduction in Iranian influence.

Russia, another major Syrian ally, has already expanded its presence in some areas of Syria at the expense of Iran, either to assuage Israel or the United States but mostly in the interest of improving its grip on affairs in Syria.

“The Syria that we knew is over,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, a London-based Syrian journalist who covers domestic affairs for the Saudi-based Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper. “The Syria that could play a regional role is over. Syria is destroyed and is busy with its own problems.”

Syria’s opposition and Washington could put a damper on this new direction. Assad himself could also scuttle this new open embrace, by either failing to offer any concessions or by seeking to play different actors against one another.

U.S. sanctions could put a limit on how far everyone can go and could be used as a tool to block investment.

Joel Rayburn, former U.S. envoy to Syria and a fellow at the New America Foundation, said efforts to normalize relations with Syria will always be limited by the U.S.’s unwillingness to see Assad rehabilitated and by “Assad’s permanent unwillingness to do the bare minimum the ‘normalizers’ require to justify their appeasement.”

___

Sarah El Deeb and Bassem Mroue are based in Beirut and have covered the Middle East for more than two decades.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, is joined by his running mate state Rep. Sarah Rodriguez, as ...
Associated Press

Trump ties may come back to haunt in swing state Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Donald Trump reasserted his grip on Republicans in Wisconsin’s primary, but both Democrats and Republicans said Wednesday that the former president’s involvement in key races for governor and U.S. Senate could come back to hurt them in the swing state. Trump’s pick for governor, construction company co-owner Tim Michels, beat out […]
10 hours ago
Associated Press

Wisconsin woman in Slender Man attack drops release request

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — One of two Wisconsin women who were sent to a state mental health facility after a 2014 stabbing attack on a sixth-grade classmate that they claimed was to appease the horror character Slender Man has withdrawn her petition for release. In June, Morgan Geyser, 20, asked Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren […]
10 hours ago
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones attempts to answer questions about his emails asked by Mark Bankston...
Associated Press

What’s next for Alex Jones after $49M Sandy Hook verdict?

DALLAS (AP) — The nearly $50 million defamation verdict against Alex Jones for his years of lies about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is far from a final reckoning. Jones’ attorneys plan to appeal and try to lower the price tag a Texas jury put on his false claim that the nation’s deadliest school […]
10 hours ago
A firefighter walks on the site of a deadly fire at a large oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba,...
Associated Press

Firefighters subdue deadly blaze at key oil facility in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) — A deadly fire that has consumed at least half of a large oil facility in western Cuba and threatened to worsen the island’s energy crisis has been largely controlled after nearly five days, authorities said Wednesday. Flames that recently consumed the fourth tank in the eight-tank facility in Matanzas were almost quelled, […]
10 hours ago
Money is exchanged at a food stand while workers wear face masks inside Grand Central Market on Wed...
Associated Press

US inflation slows from a 40-year peak but remains high

WASHINGTON (AP) — Falling prices for gas, airline tickets and clothes helped give Americans a slight break from the pain of high inflation last month, though overall price increases slowed only modestly from a four-decade high that was reached in June. Consumer prices jumped 8.5% in July compared with a year earlier, the government said […]
10 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
UAE’s embrace of Syria could lead to more Arab overtures