Arab League meeting set to endorse rehabilitation of Assad

Saudi Arabia is set to host a meeting Friday 14th April in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with foreign ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which include Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab League.

Mood Change

There is a strong sense that the mood among the Arab states has shifted dramatically in recent months from a complete resistance to any plans to normalise relations with Damascus by most of the participants to a new pragmatic approach. Majed Al-Ansari, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson speaking at a press briefing said:

‘The main aim is to discuss the situation in Syria. There are many developments regarding the situation in Syria and points of view of Arab states about the return of Syria to the Arab League…[an] Arab consensus [plus a] change on the ground would shift Qatar’s position’

He added:

‘Any change in the current (Qatari) position on Syria is mainly linked to an Arab consensus, and a change on the ground that achieves the aspirations of the Syrian people.’

Saudi Arabia invites Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad to the Arab League Summit in May

Saudi Arabia has additionally announced plans to invite the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League summit in Riyadh, which is scheduled to take place on May 19th. Many believe this to represent a presumption of the results of this weeks meeting in Jeddah and his attendance would mark the most significant development in the Syrian President’s rehabilitation in the Arab world, since he was suspended from the Arab League in 2011.  It is argued that the reconciliation is not an endorsement of President Bashir al-Assad – whose brutal crackdown on protests, led to the outbreak of a civil war which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian men, women and children. The suggestion is that inviting Syria back into the fold is more a symbolic gesture, which aims to reflect the change in the regional approach, the recent devastating earthquake, as well as pressures from foreign powers.

US refusal to support Assad ‘in any way’

It was less than a year ago that US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ambassador Barbara Leaf, made clear that the US had no plans to lift sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime until ‘real and continuous progress is achieved towards a political solution’.  She demanded that Assad’s regime must be held accountable for its crimes against Syrian civilians and added that:

‘Assad and the coterie around him remain the single largest impediment to a political solution in Syria.’  

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaking at the UN General Assembly last month (March 2023), spoke of the 12 year fight of the Syrian people:

‘who peacefully demanded their dignity, their freedoms, their fundamental human rights. But this peaceful movement soon turned bloody as the Assad regime initiated a brutal conflict that has claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million Syrians.’

A year earlier the Ambassador made clear that the US would not support the rehabilitation of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Al-Assad, in any way. The al-Assad regime, she said, had not earned the right to normalise relations with the international community. Many pundits will now be asking if perhaps because of the perceived shift in the world power dynamics since then – the war in Europe and the tensions with Russia and China, to what degree will the decision by the Arab states to normalise relations with Syria serve to increase the current angst of the United States over recent Arab/Russian cooperation.


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