As many know, I continuously met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad between 2004 and 2009 first to jot down a biography on him after which as one thing of an unofficial liaison between the USA and Syria at a time when bilateral relations have been strained. I met a lot of high-level Syrian officers, and I established a relationship with the Syrian president.
After a brutal civil battle, which nonetheless simmers in a couple of components of the nation, a few of these identical individuals have been de facto or de jure labeled within the West as battle criminals — at first amongst them is Assad. There’s an intensive net of worldwide sanctions, most notably the Caesar Act handed by the US Congress, and UN resolutions arrayed in opposition to the Syrian authorities. How may the Biden administration assent to open a dialogue with a authorities so universally remoted, if not loathed, within the West?
It is a very exhausting query to reply. Consider me, I get it. I, myself, have a tough time advocating for any kind of dialogue with those that have a lot blood on their arms; nonetheless, this has been a lethal and damaging civil battle the place there are a lot of individuals in Syria on all sides with blood on their arms.
However I are likely to gravitate towards a extra realist overseas coverage on this occasion. Not that moralist and realist overseas insurance policies are mutually unique. It is at all times extra palatable politically and psychologically if a selected overseas coverage is accompanied by an ethical crucial. However they’re typically separated by necessity and circumstance, which will be higher digested if one is satisfied there’s a bigger good at stake. For my part, a rigorously negotiated and constructed US-Syrian dialogue will be mutually helpful. As an American citizen, I believe to myself: How can the USA profit from this? What do the Syrians have to supply?
The USA doesn’t want Syria practically as a lot because the reverse. The dilapidated and dying Syrian economic system desperately wants humanitarian and reconstruction support in addition to long-term overseas funding to start the arduous job of attempting to rebuild the nation. Backside line: Syria wants sanctions reduction, and due to the stiff Treasury Division penalties imposed on any entities who violate the Caesar Act, the US is in a singular place to make it occur.
For the USA, stability is necessary in Syria — not solely due to the immense struggling that has unfolded because the begin of Syria’s battle and the comprehensible revulsion, and sense of heartbreak, that Individuals really feel when confronted with it, but additionally as a result of Syria borders US allies (Israel, Jordan, and Turkey) in addition to nations who’re seemingly at a tipping level towards state failure (Lebanon and Iraq). Any extra destabilizing spillover from Syria may very well be the final straw.
As well as, as considered one of Syria’s essential allies within the civil battle together with Russia, Iran’s footprint within the nation is intensive — together with by its dutiful consumer, Hezbollah. Virtually because the starting of the battle, Hezbollah’s enhanced presence within the nation alone has been, and continues to be, seen as a continuing risk to Israel; it’s, due to this fact, the kindling that would doubtlessly mild the hearth to a regional battle. Decreasing the Iranian presence is within the curiosity of the US and its allies.
So, there may be the potential for some sort of compromise that may very well be a win-win for each nations. Whereas it might be true that the US is unlikely to raise its sanctions wholesale, simply because it’s unlikely Syria would expel Iran from its nation, one thing like a limitation on Hezbollah’s presence in alternate for phased sanctions discount on issues like reconstruction provides sounds broadly possible and would no less than make marginal enhancements to a horrible scenario.
The Biden administration has but to set its Syria coverage, one thing that would appear prone to occur within the coming months because it continues to judge the scenario and because the still-new administration’s overseas insurance policies on a number of worldwide points start to coalesce.
There are these within the administration who’re dedicated to maintaining the strain on Assad till he falls from energy — they actually don’t wish to reward him with sanctions reduction for being, of their eyes, a battle prison. And there are those that imagine on this more-realist method, that there are some doable quid professional quos, if for no different cause than to ship extra humanitarian help to a long-suffering inhabitants.
I can not emphasize this sufficient: The Biden administration’s Syria coverage may go in a single course or the opposite, and as soon as it’s established, barring some disaster occasion, it will likely be immensely tough to alter it once more for no less than the subsequent 4 years. Small gestures now by Syria may have a disproportionate salutary impact in the long run.
What can occur, what gesture can Syria make, to get a dialogue began?
It’s broadly believed in Western authorities and media circles that the Syrian authorities has held American journalist Austin Tice, who went lacking in Syria in August 2012.
It’s my view that any progress on US-Syrian relations will NOT transfer ahead with out Syrian acknowledgment of and cooperation in offering dependable data on Austin Tice. As soon as that is completed, the door is ajar for extra dialogue, and the Biden administration’s Syria coverage may very properly veer on this course, even when the acknowledged US purpose might stay for Assad to go away energy and for a transitional authorities to take cost.
President Assad: NOW is the time to do what you’ll be able to to satisfy the Biden administration in any center floor that may be discovered, together with by disclosing any doable data on Austin Tice’s whereabouts. It is the precise factor to do, and now could be the precise second.