Assad says Syria has held ‘meetings’ with US on possibly mending ties with West

US-sanctioned president says meetings don’t amount to much but he continues with them because ‘there is always hope’ relations can be fixed

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview in Damascus, Syria, on August 9, 2023. (Syrian Presidency Telegram page via AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview in Damascus, Syria, on August 9, 2023. (Syrian Presidency Telegram page via AP)

DAMASCUS, Syria — US-sanctioned President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published on Sunday that Syria has held meetings “from time to time” with Washington, as it seeks openings after over a decade of isolation.

The United States was among the first to cut ties with Assad over the repression of anti-government protests that sparked war in 2011 that has since killed more than half a million people, displaced millions more, and battered Syria’s infrastructure and industry. Many Western and Arab states also severed relations with Syria because of the war.

However, last year Syria returned to the Arab fold, seeking better ties with wealthy US-allied Gulf states, in the hope they can help fund reconstruction – although Western sanctions are likely to deter investment.

“America is currently illegally occupying part of our lands… but we meet with them from time to time, although these meetings do not lead to anything,” Assad said in an interview with a Russian-backed official from Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, published by Syria’s official Sana news agency.

Assad did not give further details about who was involved in the meetings, or what was discussed.

“There is always hope: even when we know there will be no results we must try,” he said when asked about the possibility of mending ties with the West.

In this November 17, 2014 photo, smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobane, following an airstrike by the US-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Assad also attempted to mend ties with other countries not aligned with the West, having most recently making an official visit to China for the first time in almost two decades.

China became one of only a handful of countries outside the Middle East that Assad has visited since the civil war began, and was the latest in a string of leaders ostracized by the West to be courted by Beijing. Beijing has long provided Damascus with diplomatic support, particularly at the UN Security Council where it is a permanent member.

After war broke out, the United States imposed a slew of sanctions on Syria – which had already been a pariah state in the West under Assad’s father Hafez.

In 2020, a US law known as the Caesar Act came into force that punishes any companies that work with Assad.

The Caesar Act, accompanied by a slew of US sanctions on Syrians close to Assad, aimed to force accountability for human rights abuses and to encourage a political solution.

Washington is also at odds with Damascus over US backing for northeast Syria’s semi-autonomous Kurdish authorities, which have spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State group with support from a US-led international coalition.

Damascus accuses Kurdish authorities, which control most of the country’s major oilfields, of separatism. It accuses them of being traitors because of their close US ties.

In 2022, US President Joe Biden had accused Syria of holding American journalist Austin Tice, abducted more than a decade ago in Damascus, and called on Syria’s government to help secure his release.

The Syrian foreign ministry denied holding Americans, including Tice.

Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for AFP, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations, when he was detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.

Most Popular
read more: