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The long road towards a Syrian solution

Mar 26,2023 - Last updated at Mar 26,2023

There has been an increase in political engagement with Syria from Arab countries since the recent catastrophic earthquake, with many countries identifying it as an opportunity for a breakthrough political solution for the Syrian crisis. Recently, Bashar Assad has received many public delegations with the foreign ministers of both the UAE and Jordan to a delegation of senior Arab lawmakers who spoke with President Assad about bringing Syria back into the fold of the Arab world. The Syrian president himself has been active in visiting various countries from Oman to the UAE, but his focus has been on Russia. His trips to the UAE have raised questions about whether it is just related to the earthquake, as his frequent trips suggest that the UAE is engineering a deal that would restore ties between Damascus and Arab countries.

This approach makes sense, given more than 12 years of continuous crisis in Syria, and any solution should come from the Arab world. Jordan has a vested strategic interest in resolving the conflict, particularly given the negative impacts on Jordan are exceeding the economic or demographic side, with security issues such as terrorism, organised crime, weapons trafficking and drugs. So, it is only logical for Jordan, an ally of the UAE, to join a new initiative to find a political solution for Syria.

However, it is difficult to see a clear new vision for a solution in Syria that moves on from the same old proposals. Perhaps the best approach is that those proposals are put back on the table to test the waters and understand where key international stakeholders now sit, in order to navigate and find a solution for the times. Indeed, it is hard for the international community to accept the Syrian regime as it is, at the same time, there is no real pressure on the Syrian regime to consider any serious compromise. So, any proposal might not be satisfactory to at least one of the sides.

The Syrian regime is likely to weather any pressure that is put on it to shift its position, and conversely the international community is not particularly open to compromise as Syria is viewed through the prism of Russia, which is in open war with the US, the NATO, and the EU. Any military presence in the Mediterranean will be seen an obstacle, so the statements that Assad made during his most recent visit to Moscow will be interpreted as a continuation of hostility to the US and the West, especially given he indicated interest in more Russian military bases in Syria. Moreover, given Syria’s role in the Iranian-Israeli conflict, it is hard to see any Israeli interest in reaching a solution in Syria while Iran has a clear presence within its borders.

The Syrian crisis is no longer a priority for the international community for so many reasons, the flow of refugees to Europe is no longer a phenomenon and terrorist activities are no longer impacting its people, all the focus is now on the Ukraine war. This presents an opportunity to bring Syria back into the Arab world through the Arab League as the first phase. An Arab solution will then become the de facto reality, and from there they can work with the US and the international community to accept it as the status quo.

Obviously, none of this will work if the US administration refuses to change its position, particularly as one of the main obstacles is sanctions and the Caesar that only the US can change. Therefore, it is important for countries allied with the US realise that any shift  requires wisdom, caution and diplomatic skills, and develop a gradual solution for this long and complicated crisis.

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