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Measuring the Extent of Normalization with Assad Regime

The remarkable mending of ties between Bashar Assad’s administration and Syria’s neighbors is seen in very different ways by Syrians on each side of the mainly frozen battle lines.

Residents in government-held regions of Syria are hopeful that an uptick in foreign trade and investment would help alleviate the country’s dire economic condition, which has led to price hikes and a shortage of fuel and electricity.

Those in northern Syria who had hoped to receive aid from Saudi Arabia and the other Arab nations in their fight against Assad’s regime now feel even more alone and abandoned.

The defense ministers of Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Syria met on Tuesday in Moscow to continue their ongoing conversations. When it comes to funding the armed opposition battling Assad, Turkey plays a crucial role.

Furthermore, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has backtracked on its support for organizations fighting Assad’s government in Syria. Diplomatic ties between the two nations had been severed more than a decade ago, but this week Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan traveled to Damascus to repair the damage.

The monarchy is hosting the Arab League next month and has been advocating for Syria’s reinstatement. There are still several laggards, but Qatar stands out the most. The Arab League was established so that Arab states might cooperate and help one another.

For the time being, at least, several Arab leaders have voiced hope that Syria would agree to a UN mechanism coordinated with the Arab League that would enable refugees to return home securely. Refugees from Syria and residents in Jordan and Lebanon are becoming more antagonistic against one another.

Another key concern is the flow of ‘amphetamine’. Synthetic amphetamine “Captagon” is escaping Syria and entering neighboring Arab countries including Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Captagon trafficking, estimated at $1 billion per year, has its origins in Syria. In order to address the “transnational security threat” presented by the drug trade, the US Congress passed the Captagon Act last year, which required Vice President Joe Biden’s administration to develop such a strategy. Despite going on for nearly two years, the dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Jordan over Syria has not been resolved. Saudi Arabia, a major player in the area, has a better chance of winning.

Normalization efforts with Assad are met with ambivalence at the White House, but they aren’t being forcefully blocked. There have been no recent diplomatic endeavors involving Syria in which the United States took part. Re-admitting Assad would have serious political and moral consequences for the West, which is unable to bear them at this moment. Sanctions and lawsuits filed against Assad by dual nationals in the US, France, and Germany have also been an impediment to his efforts.

A German court has convicted a middle-ranking Syrian security official guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. The dreaded chief of security and trusted advisor Ali Mamlouk may be among those who face retribution for their participation in the creation of Assad’s heinous prison and torture apparatus.

The Caesar Act, passed by Congress in 2019, is a sweeping sanctions bill that includes the Syrian government among its many intended victims. This should prompt extreme caution on the part of anybody contemplating doing official business in Syria.

Assad was not invited to the next Arab League conference in Riyadh. Despite the fact that Amman signed the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, Bashir nonetheless attended Arab League meetings in 2017, including the one in Jordan. Bashir met with Assad in person in Damascus in 2018. His pride had been destroyed, however.

Since Bashir’s overthrow, the United States removed Sudan off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, marking the beginning of Sudan’s gradual but steady reintegration into international society. The transition to civilian rule in the nation burst early this year, while erstwhile lieutenants turned peace negotiators who helped remove Bashir went to fight with one another this month.

Neither a new movement nor any generals showing indications of challenging Assad for the presidency have emerged in Syria. On their route to Damascus, the visiting dignitaries may learn something from the circumstances in Khartoum that sparked the war. Without authority, deterrent, or accountability, negotiating with a tyrant in a presidential palace or in fatigues is a recipe for disaster.

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