An upcoming meeting between Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad will probably reveal the outcome of Russia’s recent diplomatic push to restore Syria’s membership in the Arab League.
It will also reveal the results of a Syrian proposal that has been submitted to Baghdad entitled the “Arab depth,” outlining the steps needed for returning Damascus to the Arab League and confronting Iran and Turkey’s infiltration of its territories.
Russia has dispatched its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the region where he held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Monday and carried out a tour of the Gulf region a month ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, had also met with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad two days ago and made unannounced visits to Arab countries.
Moscow has urged Arab countries to restore Syria’s membership to the Arab League and to draft an Arab position that would be declared at the League’s next summit, which is expected to take place in Algeria. Lavrov discussed this issue during his visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar last month.
Moscow believes that the Syrian presidential elections will serve as a turning point in the course of the country’s ten-year conflict. It has also seen “progress” in the political process as demonstrated in the meetings of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva and frontlines that have remained largely unchanged since March 2020.
Meeting behind closed doors, Russian officials have said that “weakening Iran in Syria demands that Arabs restore their political and economic presence in Damascus.” They have also stressed the need to avert the collapse of the Syrian state due to American and European sanctions that are “suffocating the Syrian people.”
The Russians have therefore urged Arab countries to offer financial aid to the Syrian government. Moscow has also sought to free some 1 billion dollars belonging to the Syrian government that has been frozen in Arab banks. However, Russia and Arab countries are aware of the “limits of what they can offer” to Damascus given the legal restrictions imposed by Washington’s Caesar Act and European-American conditions on Syria’s reconstruction.
The ‘Arab depth’ initiative
Given the above, prominent Syrian figures proposed the “Arab depth” initiative to Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq to bolster their contribution in “finding the best solution that should lead to achieving internal Syrian stability and boost the Arab role.” The figures believe that several Arab countries share Damascus’ keenness in restoring stability in Syria and its fear over the expansion of religious extremism and terrorism in the region. They are also concerned with Turkey and Iran’s growing influence in Syria amid the absence of an effective Arab role.
Should the “Arab depth” initiative truly get off the ground, then it will act as a parallel platform to the Astana process that includes Russia, Turkey, and Iran and the new platform that was recently launched by Russia, Turkey, and Qatar.
The initiative calls for the release of detainees, encourages the return of refugees with Arab support, urges the establishment of an independent judiciary and hopes for the formation of a new Syrian platform with the Arab League’s sponsorship. It also urges dialogue with the Americans and Russians to ensure the success of the initiative.
Damascus believes it can break through the Arab “wall” after finding the door firmly shut against it by the Americans and Europeans. It has received some of the ideas of the initiative during its foreign minister’s recent visit to Muscat, Assad’s meeting with Lavrentiev and security contacts between Syrian and Arab officials.
Politically, Damascus is so far prioritizing its presidential elections, set for mid-May, with Assad expected to claim victory. Some officials have hinted that “political reforms could take place after the polls” and that they would positively deal with the Constitutional Committee. Damascus is also prioritizing its fight against western sanctions and its efforts to improve living conditions for the Syrians by receiving oil shipments from Iran and food from Russia. It is also striking deals with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to receive oil derivatives and grain from northeastern Syria.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.