King Abdullah II of Jordan made the news last week when he received a phone call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was the first contact between the king and the president in more than a decade, since the start of the civil war in Syria.
It was part of a model. Since 2018, Arab states that once funded and armed Assad’s opposition have been trying to restore diplomatic relations with his regime. Since President Joe Biden took office, these efforts have intensified. Last month, the Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Last week, trade ministers from Syria and the United Arab Emirates met to discuss how to expand economic ties.
This is worrying news for the Syrian people. Assad is a dictator whose forces gassed civilians and tortured political opponents. From now on, he is no longer shunned by his neighbors. The stain of his brutality is fading.
It is also a setback for American interests. Since President Barack Obama’s second term, the goal of US policy against Assad has been to deny him a complete victory in his civil war. That’s why Obama and former President Donald Trump backed sanctions against the Assad regime and a UN-mediated process to establish transitional leadership for Syria.
The diplomatic recognition of a Syrian government was linked to the outcome of this process. Jordanian, Egyptian and Emirati efforts to normalize relations with Syria will only embolden Assad and other tyrants.
So it’s worth asking what, if anything, the Biden administration is doing about these thawing relations between Assad and America’s Arab allies. To be sure, the United States maintains its policy of not recognizing Assad’s government. A State Department official told me and other reporters that the United States was not expected to improve diplomatic relations with Syria and that the United States would not encourage not others to do so, given the atrocities inflicted by the Assad regime on the Syrian people. . “
It’s fine as far as it goes. But no US official has publicly criticized Abdullah’s phone call or any other recent Arab plea in Damascus. I am also not told that no US official has warned Arab allies that increased trade with Syria and other diplomatic contacts could risk going against recent legislation that sanctions the Arabs. Syrian officials, including Assad himself, for war crimes. As of June 2020, the United States began designating dozens of Syrian officials under the legislation. Under Biden, the United States made no new designation.
“It puts a strain on gullibility to think that the King of Jordan would publish his appeal with Assad if President Biden or his administration objected to this outreach,” said David Schenker, who was deputy secretary of state for the United Nations. Middle East Affairs under Trump. Jordan receives more than $ 1.5 billion in military and economic aid each year from the US government. Schenker said he warned his interlocutors that full recognition of Assad’s government would violate a UN Security Council resolution and potentially trigger US sanctions against Syria.
Syrian opposition figures are also frustrated with the Biden administration. “We were given the impression that Syria would not be forgotten,” said Mouaz Mustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Response Force. âThe least they should do is make it as difficult as possible to normalize relations with a genocidal war criminal regime. “
Right now, normalizing relations with Assad, if not Syria, seems easy enough for Abdullah. His openness to the Syrian leader has cost him nothing with his most important ally. As Abdullah told CNN over the summer, “The regime is here to stay.” It seems Biden agrees, although his diplomats won’t.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He served as a senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, New York Sun and UPI.
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