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Arabs in race to improve Syria ties as US prepares for exit, Foreign Policy says

A US military convoy drives on the outskirts of the Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, on February 12, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

There is a race among Arab countries to repair ties with the Syrian government as the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan is construed as a prelude to a US military exit from Syria, US news publication Foreign Policy says. 

The Arab world has taken note of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and is starting to wonder whether Syria, where the United States still has several hundred troops, will be next, it wrote.

“The Biden administration has already given indications it is willing to look away from Persian Gulf Arab states reviving relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than actively prevent them from doing so,” it said.

The move, it said, showed a “slight but significant shift in US policy,” and was a result of Washington’s “diminished appetite for enforcing Syria’s isolation.”

Foreign Policy went on to say that the Persian Gulf Arab states—notably, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia—have in recent months deepened their engagement with the Syrian government to varying degrees and in pursuit of different goals.

“There are limits to how far Persian Gulf Arab states can advance their relationships, which are heavily influenced by the Biden administration’s nascent Syria policy and the still-extensive reach of the Caesar Act’s sanctions. But Arab leaders no doubt remember that former US President Donald Trump declared victory against Daesh in December 2018,” it said.

“Given US President Joe Biden’s policy toward Afghanistan, predicated on a similar declaration of 'mission accomplished,' they will likely prepare for Washington’s exit from Syria. After all, it’s hard to find anyone in the US administration who publicly argues Syria is a vital US interest,” it added.

The United States and its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 under the pretext that the Taliban militants were harboring al-Qaeda. The invasion removed the Taliban from power but it worsened the security situation in the country.

The militants intensified their offensive and rapidly overran major Afghan cities in recent weeks, as the US-led foreign forces enforced what was seen as a hasty withdrawal. The Taliban laid siege to Kabul on August 15, and the then-Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on the same day.

For the past two weeks, Kabul’s airport has been the scene of chaos and sporadic violence, with panicked Afghan and foreign nationals desperately trying to catch evacuation flights out of the country, prompting officials there to enforce restrictions. 

Foreign Policy also noted that some Arab leaders, including from Jordan, the UAE, and others have lobbied at the highest levels in Washington in favor of sanctions waivers to support expanding their outreach to Syria.

“After a decade of conflict, Persian Gulf Arab states are seeking ways to develop an Arab solution to the war and, by doing so, bring Syria back into the so-called ‘Arab fold’,” it said.

“The Persian Gulf Arab states will continue to preposition themselves—at different paces and in ways that are consistent with existing sanctions on Syria—ahead of a political settlement in the country. The question of when such a settlement comes will depend on the United States,” the publication said  

“Given Biden’s hard-nosed realism in Afghanistan, it’s easy to imagine the president concluding US troops in northeast Syria don’t serve US interests,” it added.

A US-led military coalition has been active inside Syria under the pretext of fighting the Daesh terrorist group since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

The US military strikes in the Arab country have on many occasions resulted in civilian casualties and failed to fulfill their declared aim of countering terrorism.

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