The Financial Times: The Arab world weighs the price of Syria’s return


The Financial Times says that the Arab World Weighs the Price of Assad’s Rehabilitation.

The series of visits by Arab dignitaries to Syria indicates that President Bashar al Assad’s 12-year regional isolation may be nearing an end.

While, the Assad feels confident, the paper states, at a recent meeting of foreign ministers discussing Syria’s readmission to the Arab League, officials said he showed no interest in compromise.

According to the Financial Times, one official said, “The Syrians want a complete surrender… Some joke that they might even ask for an apology”.

The Financial Times states that some Arab countries are still hesitant, and among the countries that have refrained from Saudi-led plans to invite Assad to attend the Arab League summit this month, Qatar and Kuwait.

However, senior officials from several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, have begun working on issues to raise with Syria.

One of the diplomats says that such negotiations will test whether Assad is serious or not about returning to the Arab diplomatic fold.

Most Arab states severed relations with Assad in 2011, but after he regained control of most of Syria, pressure soon began to re-engage him, led by the United Arab Emirates, which reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, and then Bahrain.

At that point, the competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia was draining for the region, so there was little desire to engage again with Assad.

Gulf States have long supported opposition groups and opposed Iran’s growing presence in Syria.

Nevertheless, attitudes toward Tehran have shifted, driven in part by what regional officials say is the lack of clear direction from the United States and the desire of the UAE and Saudi Arabia to de-escalate tensions with Iran.

This paved the way for last month’s China-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A senior Saudi official says that although re-involving Syria was not a condition of the deal, one has an effect on the other, adding, “I don’t think we would have reached Syria if we hadn’t… extended a helping hand to Iran”.

Aftermath of the massive earthquake that struck Türkiye and Syria in February, the United States temporarily eased sanctions restrictions to facilitate aid flows into Syria, creating a moment for Arab leaders to take advantage of, and surprising American officials.

The Financial Times believes that even Riyadh, which led the recent diplomatic initiatives to Damascus, has not yet committed itself to restoring full relations with Assad without some action from the Syrian side.

Another Arab diplomat says that Syria’s return to the Arab League should be the result of an effort.

It may be difficult to make much progress.

Experts said Arab leaders would not press Assad over wartime abuses to avoid drawing attention to their records.

The millions of refugees abroad are also an intractable problem.

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