Arab leaders offer Syria billions in aid, sanctions relief if Assad pushes back against Iran: WSJ
The Cradle, March 16, 2023 — Arab leaders offered Assad help in lobbying the west to lift crushing economic sanctions, despite Washington’s disinterest in loosening its grip on Damascus.
Arab leaders are offering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a deal that includes billions of dollars for reconstruction efforts and a pledge to lobby the west to lift sanctions in exchange for “[asking] Iran to stop expanding its footprint in the nation,” according to Arab and European officials that spoke with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Other conditions set by the leaders of the unnamed Arab nations include a pledge from Damascus to engage with opposition and rebel groups, accept Arab troops to “protect returning refugees,” and crack down on the captagon drug trade.
The secret talks reportedly gained momentum following the devastating earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria last month, killing 6,000 in the Levantine nation alone.
Nonetheless, a Syrian government adviser told the WSJ that Assad “has shown no interest in political reform or a willingness to welcome Arab troops.” Western powers have also made little effort to lift crushing sanctions or stop politicizing humanitarian aid deliveries.
Last month, US State Department spokesman Ned Price urged the international community not to let humanitarian assistance to Syria be accompanied by normalization, stressing: “[Washington’s] position on the Assad regime has not changed.”
The talks between Damascus and Arab leaders are reportedly backed by Saudi Arabia, which recently agreed to restore ties with Iran in a China-brokered deal. In recent weeks, Saudi officials have called for an end to the isolation of Syria to allow a response to its dire humanitarian crisis.
“There is a consensus building in the Arab world that the status quo is not tenable. And that means we have to find a way to move beyond that status quo,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said earlier this month.
European and Arab officials also confirmed to the WSJ that Syria’s regional reintegration would be high on the agenda at the next Arab League summit, set to be held later this year in Saudi Arabia.
In recent weeks, Jordan and Egypt sent their foreign ministers to Damascus for their first diplomatic visits since the war erupted in 2011. Other nations responsible for fueling the war in its early stages, such as Tunisia, have also announced plans to restore diplomatic ties.
Even before the earthquake hit, Arab nations had slowly started to rebuild ties with Syria after more than a decade of war and isolation, citing the failure of the US-sponsored war and concerns about Iran’s growing presence in the country.
Despite these concerns, Iran has welcomed progress between Syria and the Arab world. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani called it “a realistic approach” and “a positive step toward Islamic solidarity.”