Momentum builds for Syrian return to Arab League

Meeting in Jordan aims for political solution to conflict and normalisation of regional relations, despite EU and US sanctions

Arab foreign ministers have injected fresh momentum into the drive to return Syria to the Arab fold during a meeting in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

At the top of their agenda at Monday’s talks was Jordan’s plan for a political solution for the Syrian conflict, which would lead to the “exit of all illegitimate foreign troops” from Syria.

This would not affect government-allied Russian and pro-Iranian troops but mandate the departure of Turkish military and other forces from the north of the country and 900 US troops from the northeast.

The ministers pledged to co-operate in the “safe and voluntary” repatriation of Syrian refugees and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Syria. Water scarcity, border security and measures to tackle drug smuggling were also discussed, Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported.


The meeting, hosted by Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi, was attended by Syria’s Faisal Mekdad, Saudi Arabia’s Faisal bin Farhan, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry and Iraq’s Fuad Hussein. Their aim was to secure Syria’s return to the Arab League in advance of or during the May 19th Arab summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Syria was suspended from the association in 2011 after the government cracked down on Arab Spring protests, which fuelled unrest across the region.

Syria’s political rehabilitation was given a boost by last month’s visits by Mr Mekdad to Riyadh and Mr bin Farhan to Damascus and Jordan’s King Abdullah to Saudi Arabia where he met the Saudi and Emirati rulers.

The exchanges followed Beijing-brokered Saudi-Iran agreement in March to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals. Relations were cut in 2016 after Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to Riyadh’s execution of dissident Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Syrian presidential political and media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban expressed optimism about the normalisation process.

She said Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi – which holds the presidency of the Emirates – Algeria and Iraq are “determined” to achieve Syria’s return to the league.

Morocco, which previously opposed Syria’s restoration, has “changed” its stance, she said, but Qatar and Kuwait are against the move, due to “the US presence” in these countries.

To secure Syria’s readmission, “consensus is not needed,” she argued. “When they suspended Syria, they did not have consensus, so they can readmit Syria without consensus,” she said.

Ms Shaaban said it “is in Saudi interests” to achieve the reinstatement of Syria to the Arab League. “Saudi Arabia’s policies have changed. It is more independent from the US. We in Syria salute that.”

She was sharply critical of US and European sanctions, claiming “economic warfare is worse” than fighting.

Sanctions have forced many Syrians to depend on foreign humanitarian aid. “We do not want to live on [UN} food baskets. We eat what we produce and we wear what me make,” said Ms Shaaban.

Before the war, she said, “we had food security, we were self-sufficient and could export.

“Our economy was booming. Now we have no fuel for electricity,” she said, adding that there are no seeds to revive agriculture, and no spare parts for industry.

In her home village near Homs, “people are in debt for medications, wheat, milk and barley”.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times