Jordanian pundits have expressed the hope that Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s visit Wednesday to Damascus, which included a reception by Syrian President Bashar Assad, will help ease the isolation of the Syrian regime and possibly bring about a relaxing of the 12-year-old international sanctions against Damascus.
The visit follows a phone call by Jordan’s King Abdullah II to the Syrian leader, plus a series of meetings between Arab leaders and Assad, according to Oraib Rantawi, director general of Al Quds Center for Political Studies and an expert on regional relations.
“This relief diplomacy is not limited to Jordan; Greece is visiting Turkey, Armenia is trying to use the humanitarian issue to mend relations with Ankara, and for sure Jordan wants to have better relations with Syria,” Rantawi told The Media Line.
Rapprochement could bring Assad's Syria out of isolation
Rantawi thinks that there is a possibility that inter-Arab rapprochement could lead to the return of Syria to the Arab League. “There is still some time until the next Arab Summit and there is a big chance that a way will be found to bring back Syria to the Arab fold even though Qatar is still opposed,” he said.
Lamis Andoni, a veteran Arab journalist and columnist with The New Arab newspaper, says that the visit is for more than just humanitarian purposes.
“Sure, they will say it is a humanitarian visit, but I believe it is much more than that,” she told The Media Line. “The Safadi visit followed Assad’s summit with the architect of the Abraham Accords, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed. Safadi would not have traveled to Damascus without a green light from Washington.”
Andoni says that ever since Assad visited the UAE it has been clear that things are moving forward. “I don’t believe that the Americans are opposed to the visit which followed the king’s phone call to Assad,” she said.
“Jordan can’t avoid visits that all others have carried out even though the West has clearly not changed their position on Assad and they are not interested in breaking his isolation.”Mamoun Abu Nuwar, retired Jordanian Air Force General
Retired Jordanian Air Force General Mamoun Abu Nuwar told the Media Line that the visit by Jordan’s foreign minister is largely a humanitarian visit and an expression of solidarity.
“Jordan can’t avoid visits that all others have carried out even though the West has clearly not changed their position on Assad and they are not interested in breaking his isolation,” he said.
Abu Nuwar expects that the Safadi visit and others will help weaken the isolation. “The Syrian leadership can now show that this isolation has been weakened, besides this visit, and this will help him internally and will be a step toward Arab rehabilitation. Qatar and Kuwait are still holding back but most of the Arab world is in support of improving relations with Syria,” he explained.
Tarek Khoury, a former member of Jordan’s parliament, told Radio Al-Balad in Amman that he is not sure that visits alone will end the isolation of Syria. “We have been involved in visits both parliamentary and governmental, but without an international decision nothing will change as far as the sanction regime on Syria,” he said.
Khoury, a strong supporter of the Syrian regime, said that visits are helpful, but they are not enough. “In order to experience a breakthrough, it is important to have international and, specifically, American approval. Until that is reached the visits are not going to produce the needed breakthrough,” he told the radio station.
Khalil Attiyeh, a veteran member of Jordan’s parliament, circulated a memo to the government asking lawmakers to call on the United States, the European Union and the World Health Organization to lift all sanctions currently imposed on Syria.
Jordanian-Syrian relations have fluctuated over the years. In his personal autobiography, the late King Hussein said that Syrians tried to down his plane in 1958 as he was traveling to Lausanne, Switzerland through Syrian airspace. Syria had alliances with left-wing Palestinian groups and with Hamas until the Arab Spring poisoned relations between the two neighboring countries. In recent years, Jordan has tried to gain a US waiver on exporting electricity to Lebanon via Syria but so far has failed.
The US-led Caesar Act sanctions on the Syrian regime over its extreme human rights violations against its own people have economically crippled Damascus. The Syrian civil war has meant that Assad’s forces have lost direct control of many parts of his own country, including areas where many of the country’s oil wells lie, has left the economy in tatters.
Syria has repaired its relations with Hamas, and has been largely supported by Iranian and Russian troops which have ensured that Assad remains in power. Meanwhile, most Arab countries have slowly begun to reach out to Damascus. Holdouts so far are Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Kuwait.