The US does not intend to support any efforts to normalise ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or rehabilitate him until there is irreversible progress towards a political solution in Syria, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday.
Blinken’s comments at a news conference come at a time when a shift is underway in the Middle East among the Arab allies of the US, who are bringing Assad in from the cold by reviving economic and diplomatic ties.
Jordan, a staunch US ally, fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria in late September, to boost the countries’ struggling economies and reinforce a push by Arab states to reintegrate Syria after shunning it over its civil war.
Jordan’s King Abdullah also spoke to Assad for the first time in a decade this month while the Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers met last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, in what Egyptian media said was the first meeting at that level for about a decade.
“What we have not done and what we do not intend to do is to express any support for efforts to normalise relations or rehabilitate Assad or lift a single sanction on Syria or changed our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria, until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution, which we believe is necessary and vital,” Blinken said.
The US has suspended its diplomatic presence in Syria since 2012. Blinken said in the nine months since President Joe Biden took office on January 20, Washington has focused on expanding humanitarian access to Syria, sustaining the campaign against Islamic State and making clear the US
commitment to demand accountability from Assad’s government.
But Syria has not been a foreign policy priority for the Biden administration, analysts note, as Washington largely concentrated on countering China.
The administration has yet to apply sanctions under the so-called Caesar Act, which came into force last year with the aim of increasing pressure on Assad.
“As we’re moving forward in the time ahead, keeping violence down, increasing humanitarian assistance, and focusing our military efforts on any terrorist groups that pose a threat to us or to our partners...These are going to be critical areas of focus for us,” Blinken said.
Blinken added the Biden administration plans to press ahead with its plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem as part of efforts to deepen ties with Palestinians.
Blinken reiterated his pledge to move toward re-establishing the consulate, which had traditionally been a base for diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians before it was closed by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2018.
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