For the past couple months there's been persisting reports and rumors that Saudi Arabia is preparing to restore diplomatic ties and normalized relations with the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, coming off a decade of war in which the Saudis spearheaded efforts alongside the US and other allies to topple him.
As we detailed in early May the first major step toward detente came when Saudi Arabia's powerful intelligence chief, Gen Khalid Humaidan, traveled to Damascus to meet with his Syrian counterpart. The two sides broke off relations since near the start of the war in 2011, especially as it became clear the Saudis were a key part of the Western-allied push for regime change, through covert support to anti-Assad insurgents and jihadists which included regular weapons shipments.
Starting in 2018, other Arab capitals had begun seeking to mend relations with Assad, especially after the United Arab Emirates reopened its long shuttered embassy in the Syrian capital at the end of that year. There's even been talk of late of Assad being invited back into the Arab League.
Essentially America's Gulf allies are fast coming to the conclusion that Assad is here to stay, and that pragmatism means opening up relations; however, Washington doesn't see it that way - as its prior long-running covert war has turned to an economic war of economic strangulation and choking off national resources by occupying the oil and gas rich northeast.
On Friday, a top US official threatened regional allies with sanctions should they get too friendly with Assad. The Middle East Eye details the warning as follows:
On a call to reporters on Friday, Joey Hood, acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said Washington's opposition to the Syrian government would not change unless there was a "major change in behavior" in Damascus.
"With regard to others, who may be considering making moves, we are asking them to consider very carefully the atrocities committed by the regime on the Syrian people over the last decade, as well as the regime's continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security," Hood said.
Hood brought up America's Caesar Act sanctions, which are geared toward thwarting reconstruction of the country under Assad.
Syria: Why Saudi Arabia wants Assad on its side again | Kamal Alamhttps://t.co/OVEpKW52G0 pic.twitter.com/wxHPgqBXLn— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 7, 2021
"And I would also, of course, add that we also have the Caesar Act sanctions," the top State Dept. official said. "This is a law that has wide bipartisan support in the Congress, and the administration is going to follow the law on that. And so governments and businesses need to be careful that their proposed or envisioned transactions don’t expose them to potential sanctions from the United States under that act," he added.
Egypt is also a major US Mideast which has signaled its intent to improve relations with Damascus. The Sisi government is staunchly anti-Muslim Brotherhood, and wants to see Turkish ambitions in the region thwarted. It's likely that any major rapprochement between the region's most influential countries and Assad would come via the Arab League, potentially making it harder for Washington to make good on its threat of sanctions.
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