Several European foreign ministers declined to comment on an undisclosed written letter sent by Syrian’s Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad that urged “opening dialogue” with Damascus.
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell did reply, indirectly, however, by saying that should the Syrian government take steps in the right direction, then all sides will respond with the goal of establishing a “new Syria”.
In a blog post last week, he said: “There will be no end to sanctions, no normalization, no support for reconstruction until a political transition is underway. This is the long-standing position of the European Union.”
This firm reply and the united European stance has so far discouraged Mekdad from insisting on his dialogue call and his hopes of finding a crack in this unified front.
Terrorism is common enemy
In mid-March, Mekdad sent his written letter to several European foreign ministers, including Austria, Romania, Italy and Greece. Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of the letter, which included a general summary of developments in Syria in recent years.
He blamed chaos and instability for the spread of terrorism, “which has thrown a dark cloud over Syria and several countries in Europe and the world.” He also warned of the threat of foreign meddling in the internal affairs of countries, whether through direct military intervention or “soft” intervention with the aim of imposing “certain political agendas to achieve narrow and even short-term interests”. “Such actions go against the aspirations and interests of peoples and are flagrant violation of national sovereignty, international laws and the United Nations Charter,” said Mekdad.
The minister said Syria was among the countries that was most harmed by such intervention, especially violent terrorist acts that have been directly supported by foreign forces. “There isn’t enough space in this letter to explain the full extent of the pain, suffering and tragedies that have befallen the Syrian people,” he added.
Addressing Borrell, he urged the need to “derive lessons from the harsh years” and work on “preventing the continued implementation of wrong policies that have been adopted by some governments.”
At this, Mekdad urged the need for “dialogue and understanding between us on the basis of mutual respect, common interests and fighting terrorism in order to achieve common goals and then reach the security and stability that is desired by all.” This should be achieved away from foreign meddling and imposing unilateral measures against the Syrian people, he said in reference to western sanctions. Moreover, he said the fabricated statements issued by some EU institutions will not serve the common interests of our countries, rather they will prolong the crisis in Syria.
The EU has so far imposed sanctions on 350 Syrian figures and entities. It is expected to extend the sanctions in May.
Mekdad sent his letter before last week’s Brussels V donor conference on Syria. A western diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that the minister was testing the waters to judge how united the Europeans were over the crisis. He likely was not expecting his counterparts to reply to his message.
Soon after the conference, Borrell published his blogpost that was interpreted as a response to Mekdad’s letter. He said: “We all know how devastated Syria is. How much its people have suffered, for ten years now, and what they still endure every day. Syria has become synonymous with death, destruction, and this century’s largest human exodus.”
“We should never forget how it all started. Exactly a decade ago, in the tidal wave of the Arab Spring, ordinary Syrians took to the streets peacefully asking for freedom, justice and economic perspectives. The regime responded with extreme violence, at a level unseen elsewhere in the region. The situation escalated into a deadly conflict,” he added.
“We know all the horrors of this conflict but some key figures bear repeating: over 400,000 people have died, perhaps 100.000 have disappeared. The economy is in freefall. Around 90% of Syrians live in poverty. Over 13 million Syrians – nearly 60% of the population and half of them children – are facing severe food insecurity and need humanitarian assistance. Over 12 million Syrians have fled their homes. In northern Syria, hundreds of thousands live in tents. The past year, the pandemic has further worsened the already dire situation.
“Throughout the past ten years, the EU and its member states have been the largest provider of support to Syrians. During the fifth Brussels Conference on ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region’, the EU pledged another €560 million, the same amount as last year. They add up to the close to €25 billion we have delivered since the start of the crisis. The conference, which gathered over 85 delegates from more than 55 countries and over 25 international organizations, enabled us to jointly generate €5.3 billion of new pledges.
“Our interest, as Europeans, is simple and it is what Syrians want too: we need Syria back on its feet, as a stable neighbor,” he added. International powers concerned with the crisis have stressed the need for the drafting of a new constitution and holding UN-monitored free and transparent elections in line with Security Council resolution 2254.
“The onus is therefore on the Syrian regime to take the steps set out in resolution 2254. If it takes steps in the right direction, we will respond. Until that moment, we will keep up the pressure. There will be no end to sanctions, no normalization, no support for reconstruction until a political transition is underway. This is the long-standing position of the European Union,” Borrell declared.
The diplomat described these conditions as the “three European no’s”
The Syrian foreign ministry rejected the donor conference, dismissing it as groundless for failing invite the Syrian government. Russia, the regime’s ally, had taken part in the meeting and also made similar criticism.