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Why Did the G7 Refuse to Criticize 'Normalization' With Damascus?

Why Did the G7 Refuse to Criticize 'Normalization' With Damascus?

Friday, 7 May, 2021 - 06:45
Attendees take part in G7 foreign ministers meeting in London, Britain May 5, 2021. Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS

Discussions that took place between the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven in London over the past two days revealed some change in the position of the United States and its allies regarding the Syrian file. While the group has maintained the same policy, efforts to implement it have declined and are no longer an urgent priority for the administration of US President Joe Biden.

Some parties suggested adding a phrase to the final statement of the London meeting, including an indication that the time was not appropriate for “any form of normalization” with Damascus. The assistants of some of the ministers drafting the proposal relied on two previous statements issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Syrian protests: the first by the foreign ministers of the US, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, and the second by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The two statements noted that the proposed Syrian presidential elections this year would be neither free nor fair, and should not lead to any measure of international normalization with the Syrian regime.

However, the G7 final statement issued following the first direct meeting between the leaders in two years reiterated previous points announced in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, namely the chemical file and humanitarian aid, in addition to a brief reference to the Syrian presidential elections scheduled for May 26.

The statement read: “In line with UNSCR 2254 and 1325, we urge all parties, especially the regime, to engage meaningfully with the inclusive UN-facilitated political process to resolve the conflict, notably the Constitutional Committee, to include the release of detainees and the meaningful participation of women. This includes a nationwide ceasefire and a safe and neutral environment to allow for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees. It should pave the way for free and fair elections under UN supervision, ensuring the participation of all Syrians including members of the diaspora.”

Without any reference to the normalization, the statement added: “Only when a credible political process is firmly underway would we consider assisting with the reconstruction of Syria.”

On the other hand, the focus of the G7 was placed on the humanitarian and chemical files, as the ministers condemned “the Assad regime and its backers’ ongoing atrocities against the Syrian people and attempts to disrupt regular and sustained humanitarian access into and within Syria.”

“We call for the full, unhindered humanitarian access into Syria that is vital for alleviating the impact of the crisis. We strongly support the re-authorization of cross-border humanitarian assistance later this year so that those in need can get the assistance they require,” the statement underlined.

The G7 also urged the regime in Syria to adhere to its obligations under UNSCR 2118. It strongly welcomed the decision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Conference of the States Parties to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the Chemical Weapons Convention, until it completes the steps set out in the OPCW Executive Council Decision of 9 July 2020 and refrains from further use of chemical weapons.

“We are firmly committed to accountability for those responsible for the use of chemical weapons and violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable, and pledge support for the work of appropriate international criminal justice and investigative mechanisms and transitional justice mechanisms,” the statement concluded.

The G7 position on Syria converges with priorities set by the new US administration. Since Biden came to power, his team has requested a review of the Syria policy, which is expected to be completed this month.

It is noteworthy that officials working on the Syrian file in Washington avoid participating in public meetings, in an indication to a break with the previous approach adopted by former US President Donald Trump, which was based on “maximum pressure” on Damascus and "strategic patience", through the use of tools such as sanctions.

The new US priorities in the Syrian file include three axes:

First, the humanitarian dimension, by focusing on the renewal of the Security Council’s decision to provide “cross-border” humanitarian aid on July 10.

Second, the chemical file, by exerting great pressure on Damascus and Moscow to abide by the Russian-US agreement signed between Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry at the end of 2013.

Third, the fight against ISIS, by making sure that reducing the US presence in Iraq and the region will not affect the strategy of preventing the re-emergence of the organization.

In these three axes fall the US focus, based on which Washington’s allies in Europe and Arab capitals are acting, until a major development in the US-Russian understanding takes place to revive the “step-by-step” approach, which is currently difficult to achieve amid mounting tension between Washington and Moscow on the one hand, and the Europeans and the Russians on the other.

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