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The Consequences of ‘Normalization’ with Damascus

The Consequences of ‘Normalization’ with Damascus

Wednesday, 17 November, 2021 - 10:45
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad receives the UAE Foreign Minister (SANA)

Key Arab countries are expected to take more steps towards the normalization of ties with Syria before re-admitting Damascus into the Arab League by a more significant political initiative next spring when the regional organization holds its scheduled summit in Algeria.

Attention is now directed towards the parties conducting the next steps in normalizing ties with Damascus.

This comes after the visit of UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed to Damascus and his meeting with President Bashar al-Assad last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad meeting with a number of his counterparts in New York two months ago, and the head of Syria’s main spy agency, the General Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hossam Louka, participating at an intelligence forum in Cairo a few days ago.

In the past few days, a series of public and non-public meetings were held between Arab and foreign officials to discuss the Syrian crisis and to coordinate between the involved parties “so that normalization would not come for free.”

Several ideas were put on the table of main Arab countries.

As for these states, they have taken the “first step” with Damascus, and therefore are waiting for “reciprocal steps” on Syria’s part before the normalization train goes to its next stations.

Individual or collective Arab expectations relate to three levels:

The first level pertains to Syrian files, such as Damascus positively handling the political process and the meetings of the Constitutional Committee.

The seventh round of Committee meetings led by Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is currently under consideration by the UN to be held on December 13. Talks will tackle the return of refugees, detainees, and displaced persons, and finally the implementation of Resolution 2254.

The second level revolves around geopolitical expectations regarding the Iranian presence in Syria, the Turkish incursion into its north, and the possibilities of opening channels between Tel Aviv and Damascus.

Demands are no longer focused on removing Iran completely from Syria.

Rather, expectations revolve around mitigating, redefining, or dissolving the Iranian role, in addition to lowering Syria’s provision of logistical-military-training support to Iran in other files related to Arab countries.

As for the third level, it concerns Damascus’ cooperation in the areas of combating terrorism and crime, controlling the borders with Jordan, and stopping drug smuggling to Arab countries, whether from Jordan’s borders or from Syrian and Lebanese ports.

It also concerns not having more refugees pouring into neighboring countries.

Washington has not prevented Arab countries from normalizing ties with Damascus. Instead, the US is asking these countries to obtain internal or geopolitical “Syrian concessions” while reminding them of sanctions under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.

Washington, at the same time, informed European countries of the need to maintain the “three no’s”: No to financing the reconstruction of Syria, no to breaking isolation, and no to lifting sanctions before achieving progress in the political process according to UNSC resolution 2254.

Indeed, countries are still committed to their positions and have sanctioned new Syrian ministers.

However, a number of European countries began to ask questions about the future of European policies towards Syria, which are confused between three directions: the urgency of Arab countries to normalize ties with Damascus, and the great doubts, especially from France and Germany, about the feasibility of engaging with Russia, which increases pressure on Europe with the “weapon of refugees” in Belarus, and American advice about the need to commit to traditional policy with Syria.

Doses of Arab normalization renewed the call for the need of reaching an international-Arab formula for a “step-for-step” approach that defines what is required of Damascus and the incentives offered to it, but a collective understanding on this has not yet emerged.

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