There is a growing consensus among Arab League countries that Syria should be readmitted to the bloc of nations, a report said Wednesday, as Bashar Assad’s regime strengthens diplomatic ties with former allies after declaring victory in a civil war that has left the country in ruins.
The bloc, which currently consists of 22 countries, is likely hold a vote during 2019 on welcoming Syria back after it was expelled in 2011 over brutal repression of protests, The Guardian reported.
Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir last week became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria since civil war erupted there nearly eight years ago.
With the war in Syria winding down in favor of Assad as his troops recapture key cities and population centers, some Arab officials have expressed interest in exploring the restoration of ties.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.
But now even rivals of the Iran- and Russia-backed regime of Assad, such as Saudi Arabia and Gulf emirates, are said to be improving their ties with Damascus — part of a new strategy with the aim of reducing Tehran’s influence.
However, the United States has been pressuring Egypt and Saudi Arabia to refrain from calling a vote on returning Assad to the roster of Arab world leaders, the report said.
There have reportedly been calls in Egyptian and Gulf media to reinstate Syria, and that stance was earlier this month supported by the Arab Parliament, an Arab League body.
Additionally, the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in Damascus is said to have seen increasing traffic, with workers and officials seen entering the building and the removal of barbed wire and concrete barriers at the entrance.
But such a move isn’t likely to be accepted by Western nations. An unnamed European diplomat told the British newspaper that “there’s no credible, genuine settlement process under way yet in Syria, so fundamentally there’s still no incentive for reconciliation with the regime.”
In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility. He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but he said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.
The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm meeting between the Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September in New York. The meeting turned heads because it featured hugs between the two ministers.
The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.
AP contributed to this report.