Translated by Areej Fatima Husseini
“It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we look forward with a Syrian president who has murdered over a million of the country’s citizens?”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference in Tunisia in December 2017.
The Turkish president’s claims show that he did not consider the prospect of Bashar Al-Assad staying as Syria’s president. Undoubtedly, he has begun to notice the failure of his ambitions since 2018 when the battlefield track has shifted to a large extent in favor of the Syrian army. He was not the only one who had high expectations for the war, which erupted in Syria in the summer of 2011. Many Arabs, as well as the West and the USA, took part in this.
Throughout ten years, they all fantasized about a new Syria that “has no room” for Bashar Al-Assad and his government. Damascus was suspended from the Arab League. Instead, Moaz Al-Khatib, the leader of the so-called opposition alliance represented Syria at the summit conference in March 2013.
All diplomatic relations were severed. Moreover, the UN-sponsored sessions of negotiations were a formality, as they imposed unrealistic conditions on Damascus to force its surrender.
Syria was subject to the toughest sanctions, the last of which was the “Caesar Act”, as its entire territory faced death and bloodshed. However, the scale was tipped in favor of the Syrian state and its allies. Whoever wins eventually imposes his demands, and that exactly what happened.
‘Marathon’ of Restoring Ties
Twelve years after the start of the Syrian war, experts in Syrian affairs classify the countries’ relationship with the regime into two camps: those who are “enthusiastic about normalizing relations, such as Turkey and the UAE, and those who link the normalization with a political solution in Syria, such as the United States, the European Union, and Qatar.”
There is also a third camp which observes the situation, waiting for the image to clarify before determining its position. This camp is represented by Saudi Arabia, in addition to Egypt and Jordan, to a lesser extent.
Following the devastating earthquake that shook Turkey and northwest Syria, the latter group made a remarkable advance into Syria. Egypt offered aid to Syria, as President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi contacted his Syrian counterpart and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Damascus.
🇸🇾🇪🇬 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Damascus earlier today and met with his Syrian counterpart. This visit falls down within the process of breaking siege on Damascus .. Egypt and Syria have always been key players in the Middle East political scene ! pic.twitter.com/BPNGL0Z5lO
— Maи (@MayMelhem) February 27, 2023
Further, Jordan’s relationship with the Syrian government improved by the end of 2021, after being for years one of the prominent backers of the terrorists and the role it played the “MOC” operations room. At the time (in late 2021), Jordanian King Abdullah II discussed measures to boost bilateral relations with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during a phone call that coincided with a meeting between Syrian Minister of Defense General Ali Ayoub and Jordanian Chief of Staff Major General Yusef Al-Hunaiti. Moreover, the “Nassib-Jaber” border crossing, Jordan’s northern lung, was reopened.
As for the Saudi which was a major player in the war in terms of armaments and even the media war, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan recently confirmed that “consensus is growing in the Arab world that isolating Syria is unlikely to work and that dialogue with Damascus is required.” The top Saudi diplomat also hinted at Syria rejoining the Arab League, which is set to convene in Riyadh in May.
Turkey Enthusiastic for Normalization with Syria
Back to the first camp, or the ‘enthusiasts,’ Turkey prevails. Despite its primary role and direct engagement in the war through its military presence in northern Syria, Turkey’s interests in Syria have shifted after the formation of the alliance between the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This gave the SDF power in the Syrian north, which Ankara deemed to be a threat to its national security, prompting it to work with Russia to prevent the emergence of a “Kurdish entity.” This was in return for relinquishing the objective of “toppling the regime” and forging a sort of a ceasefire in Idlib, where Turkey has direct control over the armed groups.
However, the February 6 earthquake in Kahramanmaraş had terrible consequences for Ankara, which was already in the grip of an economic crisis.
As a result, addressing the Syrian refugee issue became an urgent demand for Ankara, as well as a major key to increase Erdogan’s prospects of winning the coming presidential elections in May. It became obvious herein that the Turkish wooing towards Syria increased, as did the reiteration on the need for mending ties and demonstrating seriousness in this regard, as shown in communications through Iranian and Russian mediators.
This was not the first attempt of its kind, as Erdogan officially declared at the end of November 2022 that he had proposed to President Vladimir Putin a tripartite route to go forward with the normalization process. As a result, on December 28, a conference in Moscow was convened with the defense ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Syria, as well as intelligence officers from the three countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Tehran for talks with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the Syria peace process. pic.twitter.com/rIFUVrMjo0
— Press TV (@PressTV) July 19, 2022
What About the United Arab Emirates?
The UAE regarded eliminating Assad in 2011 as a “blow to Iran,” but it also backtracked due to the scheme’s failure. It reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018. In early 2020, the first public phone contact between then-Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and President Assad since the two nations severed diplomatic relations in 2012.
In November 2021, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed had his first visit to Damascus in ten years. Then, in March 2022, Al-Assad paid his first Arab visit to Abu Dhabi since the start of the conflict, followed by Abdullah bin Zayed’s visit to Damascus in December 2022. The Emirati openness was visible in the amount of aid offered to Syria in various forms following the earthquake, amid blatant Western and American intransigence and adherence to sanctions despite the enormity of the humanitarian catastrophe.
The Syrian president also paid another visit to the UAE earlier this month in another sign of thawing ties.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi.
The visit is #Assad‘s first state visit to the #UAE since the beginning of the conflict in #Syria in 2011.
A geopolitical breakthrough. pic.twitter.com/ZJ7sNdSLuK
— AMERICAN WATCHER ☭ (@joshuamills044) March 19, 2022
According to sources, “there is an Emirati interest in obtaining economic opportunities in Syria throughout the post-war and reconstruction phase.” Furthermore, Abu Dhabi aspires to join the line of communication between Turkey and the Syrian regime, which would strengthen its regional presence.
Turning to the camp of the obstinate states, the USA is the most prominent of them, with a military presence in bases such as Al-Malikiyah, Rumailan, Himo, Qasrak, Al-Hasakah’s sports city, Al-Shaddadi, and Al-Tanf. In addition to the tough sanctions that led to unambiguous consequences following the earthquake, Washington also plays a role, albeit in secret, in training terrorists such as ISIL militants and pillaging Syria’s wealth.
Meanwhile, these sanctions are regarded as one of the major impediments to normalization with the Syrian government by many nations, particularly the European Union. Herein, the Union’s Foreign Relations High Representative, Joseph Borrell, stated that the EU “will remain against normalization with the Syrian regime until it effectively engages in a political solution to the conflict as stipulated by the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254.”
Syria the Victor’s role: Settlement Has Conditions
On his recent visit to Russia, President Al-Assad set the records straight. In exchange for all the “messages of friendliness,” and despite the economic and human misery exacerbated by the earthquake, the latter promised: there are prerequisites for the comeback.
Al-Assad informed Erdogan that restoring communication and ties is related to establishing a clear timeline for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from the Syrian territory. This resulted in the delay of an anticipated meeting between the two countries deputy foreign ministers with Russia and Iran to an undetermined date.
In terms of the Arab world, despite his “positive” approach toward Saudi goodwill during his visit to Moscow, President Al-Assad has ruled out his country’s participation in the next Arab summit. “Syria’s membership in the Arab League is frozen, and to attend the summit, the suspension must be ended, and this requires an Arab summit,” he stated. “Returning to the Arab League is not an ambition in itself; the goal is the joint Arab action,” he added.
“As a result of its ambiguous regulations, the Arab League is frequently used to settle scores, therefore Syria cannot return while the AL is merely a label for division”, Al Assad added.
“Thousands of years may pass before the Arabs unite,” said Al-Assad in an interview on Russia TV. “So let us wait thousands of years,” he added, laughing.
Source: Al-Manar English Website