US criticizes Arab League move to restore Syria ties, says it won’t follow suit

Top Republican and Democrat on key congressional panel call for sanctions to be slapped on countries that normalize with Assad, but State Department plays down rift

Syria's empty seat is pictured during an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on May 7, 2023. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)
Syria's empty seat is pictured during an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on May 7, 2023. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday criticized the Arab League decision to readmit Syria, saying that President Bashar Assad does not deserve normalization after his country’s brutal civil war.

“We do not believe that Syria merits readmission to the Arab League at this time,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

“We continue to believe that we will not normalize our relations with the Assad regime and we don’t support our allies and partners doing so either,” he said.

Key members of Congress across party lines took a much harsher tone and urged the United States to use the power of sanctions to prevent normalization with Assad.

“Readmitting Assad to the Arab League is a grave strategic mistake that will embolden Assad, Russia and Iran to continue butchering civilians and destabilizing the Middle East,” said a joint statement by Mike McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the top Democrat on the panel, Gregory Meeks.

“Assad has not changed — he will continue these atrocities, while setting a global precedent that ruthless dictators can wait out accountability for their crimes.”

In this photo released by the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 19, 2023. (Syrian Presidency via AP)

Congress has restricted the United States from any assistance for reconstruction without accountability for abuses during the war.

Despite repeated US statements, the Arab League voted Sunday to welcome back Syria, effectively concluding that Assad had won the war that has killed half a million people and displaced half the pre-war population since 2011.

Patel played down the disagreements.

“We share a number of the same goals with our Arab partners with respect to Syria, including reaching a solution to the Syrian crisis that is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” Patel said, referring to the 2015 international bid that set out a roadmap for a political transition.

He said that the United States would also work with Arab partners on expanding humanitarian access to Syrians and on supporting stability to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State extremist group.

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