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Washington Rallies its Allies over Syria for 'Ukrainian Reasons'

Washington Rallies its Allies over Syria for 'Ukrainian Reasons'

Wednesday, 2 March, 2022 - 06:45
American, Russian and Syrian forces in Qamishli, Syria on February 12, 2020. (AP)

Washington will host on Thursday the envoys of allied nations in the Syrian file. The meeting will be an opportunity to "test" the allies and the extent the war in Ukraine will impact Syria given Russia's involvement.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs with responsibility for the Levant, Ethan Goldrich will host European Union, Arab and European envoys to discuss Syria. United Nations envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen will also brief them on the latest political developments there.

The gatherers will hold consultations on the field developments in Syria, the positions of Arab countries that are open to normalizing relations with Damascus and the impact the Ukraine war will have on the country.

Washington has notably invited Turkey to the talks. It had previously invited Ankara for the first such meetings that were held in Brussels in December.

The invite is seen as an attempt by the United States to steer Turkey away from Russia and ease tensions between it and Ankara given Washington's support to the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.

A western official said the war in Ukraine demonstrated the extent to which Russia relies militarily on the Hmeimim air base in Syria for its world strategy. This raises several questions: Should the fighting in Ukraine turn into a war of attrition, will Russia still be able to remain as involved as it is now in Syria? What will happen to the current military coordination between Russia and Israel in Syria? What will happen to the non-collision agreement between Russia and the US in Syria?

As it stands, it appears that Moscow and Tel Aviv are committed to the de-escalation agreement with Israel continuing to carry out raids against Iranian positions in Syria. The Russian-western escalation in Ukraine has yet to lead to field tensions in eastern Syria, said the official.

This raises more questions: Will Iran fill in the military void in Syria should Russia be forced to reduce its presence there? Can Tehran offer more economic aid to Syria because Russia is preoccupied elsewhere? Can Iran make more economic gains if its signs a new nuclear deal with the West? Why did Syrian national security chief Ali Mamlouk fy to Tehran?

The war in Ukraine has already left its mark in Syria with a drop in wheat and fuel imports. Poverty levels in Syria have reached 90 percent, while 12.4 million people, or 60 percent of the population, are suffering from food insecurity. The Syrian pound has also plummeted amid soaring food prices.

Thursday's meeting is also set to tackle the normalization of relations between some Arab countries and Damascus in spite of the western sanctions against Syria.

The EU had held a meeting in February to discuss Syria, reiterating its previous stances that it refuses to normalize ties with Damascus, lift sanctions and begin reconstruction before the regime launches a political transition in the country in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254.

Washington has urged Arab countries, through various diplomatic channels, against normalizing relations with Damascus and against restoring its membership at the Arab League.

The Biden administration has set its priorities in Syria: Providing humanitarian aid and working towards early economic recovery, maintaining its troop deployment in the region east of the Euphrates River to fight the ISIS terror group, supporting a ceasefire, and remaining committed to holding parties accountable for war crimes and the use of chemical weapons.

The war in Ukraine will be an opportunity to test these positions. Some sides have called for keeping the crises in Ukraine and Syria and the Iranian nuclear file apart, while others view them as interconnected, which may lead to dealing blows in Syria for "Ukrainian reasons".

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