EXCLUSIVE: US and Syria holding secret talks in Oman

The Cradle, May 16, 2023—

A senior diplomatic source in the Arab League has informed The Cradle that US officials are holding direct talks with a Syrian delegation, which comes in the wake of a regional push to restore relations with the war-torn country.

A senior diplomatic official in the Arab League has revealed exclusively to The Cradle that secret, direct negotiations are currently taking place between the US and Syrian governments.

The diplomat, who revealed the information under the condition of anonymity, said that “the talks took place in the Omani capital Muscat, ‘the city of secret negotiations’ between Washington and several nations in West Asia.” He also pointed out that the “meetings included security figures from both countries and representatives of foreign Ministries.”

During the talks, Syrian officials mainly pressed for the complete withdrawal of US occupation troops from the country. According to field sources that spoke with The Cradle, around 2,000 American military personnel are present at any given time in Syrian territory across 22 US bases – a figure higher than the Pentagon’s official count of 900 troops.

During the Muscat talks, the source stressed that “the American envoy repeatedly confirmed that he has information that Austin Tice is alive and in a Syrian army detention center. However, the Syrian delegation insisted that it had no information about Tice, with Damascus expressing its readiness to make all possible efforts to reveal his fate.”

The freelance journalist and former US Marine Corps officer was kidnapped in 2012 by armed groups in a suburb of Damascus.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that Washington has been “engaged with Syria, engaged with third countries” to find Tice.

According to The Cradle’s sources, the White House is convinced that  Damascus knows of Tice’s whereabouts. However, the Syrian delegation in Muscat did not confirm any information on this matter.

According to sources, Washington and Damascus began secret communications during the administration of former US president Donald Trump. However, these fell by the wayside once Trump stated his intention to “kill” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September 2020.

The diplomat added that “secret talks took place in previous years between Damascus and Washington, but most of them were through mediators, such as the former director general of the Lebanese General Security, Abbas Ibrahim. Direct meetings also took place between the two countries, one of which was in the Syrian capital, Damascus.” However, the number of direct meetings remained limited.

Before the communication breakdown, US officials reportedly expressed their intention to eventually withdraw military forces from Syria in offers that were never realized.

According to The Cradle‘s source, the one topic that US officials did not address during the secret talks was the fate of US-backed Kurdish militias, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  He affirmed that “The Syrian-American talks did not mention the Kurdish militias supported by the American occupation forces in northeastern Syria.” He added, “the discussion did not address any political or military issues, with the exception of Syria’s demand for the withdrawal of the occupying forces from Syrian territory.”

The bombshell revelation of these US-Syrian backdoor dealings comes just days after the White House blasted Arab nations for restoring ties with Syria. US authorities were particularly incensed after the Arab League welcomed Damascus back into the organization last week.

“We do not believe Syria merits readmission into the Arab League at this time,” a US State Department spokesperson said on 7 May, highlighting that the White House informed its Arab allies that “we will not normalize with the Assad regime and that our sanctions remain in full effect.”

“The decision to readmit Syria to the Arab League represents a rejection of US interests in the region and shows that [Arab] countries are forging policies independent of western concerns,” the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said after the Arab League voted to reinstate Syria.

“The Arab rush to welcome Damascus back into the fold happened despite public objections from the United States … [US] efforts at easing Mr. Assad out and replacing him with an inclusive, democratic government have gone nowhere, leaving American officials on the sidelines,” the New York Times (NYT) lamented.

Over the past year, the US has seen itself increasingly marginalized in West Asia due to decades of military interventions and economic coercion. Former allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led the charge, forging close trade and security ties with Russia, China, and Iran.

China, in particular, has filled the vacuum left by the US by brokering a historic detente between Tehran and Riyadh, which paved the way for ongoing peace talks in Yemen and ending Syria’s regional isolation.

Russia has also been flexing its diplomatic muscles to resolve the Syrian crisis by hosting several high-level meetings involving Syrian and Turkish officials that seek to end Ankara’s occupation of northern Syria.

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