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Why Did the G7 Refuse to Criticize “Normalization” With Damascus?

Ministers from G7 countries appear to have moved a step closer to normalizing ties with the Syrian regime, writes Asharq Al-Awsat.
Why Did the G7 Refuse to Criticize “Normalization” With Damascus?

Over the past couple of days, a discussion between G7 foreign ministers in London has exposed some changes in the position of America and its allies on the Syrian issue. The policy itself remains the same, yet efforts have diminished to implement said policy. Namely, US President Joe Biden’s administration no longer considers implementation to be a priority.

Some parties have suggested adding a phrase to the final statement of the London meeting indicating that the time is not appropriate for “any form of normalization” with Damascus. Some ministers’ assistants based their proposals on two previous statements which were issued on the tenth anniversary of the Syrian protests. The first statement was issued by the foreign ministers of America, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, while the second statement came from the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Joseph Burrell. 

“This year’s proposed Syrian presidential elections will not be free or fair, and should not lead to any international normalization of relations with the Syrian regime,” the statement said.

But the proposal was met with “cold water” from France, and the final statement, after the first face-to-face meeting in two years, focused on known points in previous statements concerning UN Security Council Resolution 2254, specifically the chemical file and humanitarian aid. It also added a general statement about the Syrian presidential elections, which are scheduled for May 26. 

The statement said: “In accordance with UN Resolution 2254, we urge all parties — particularly the regime — to participate meaningfully in the overall political process […] This includes agreeing to a ceasefire, a safe and neutral environment to allow the voluntary and dignified return of refugees, paving the way for free and fair elections under the UN’s observance, and to ensure the electoral participation of all Syrians — including those in the diaspora.” 

“We will consider helping Syria’s reconstruction when there is a credible political process firmly under way,” the statement said, without any reference to normalization.

On the other hand, the G7 focused on the humanitarian and chemical files, with ministers condemning “attempts by the regime and its supporters to block regular and ongoing humanitarian access to and within Syria.” 

The statement continued: “We condemn the politicization of the arrival and delivery of aid […] We strongly support the reauthorization of humanitarian assistance across the border where those in need can offer proper assistance […] We urge the regime to abide by its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013), and welcome the decision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges […] We are firmly committed to holding those responsible for using chemical weapons accountable, and we pledge to support the work of criminal justice mechanisms, appropriate international investigation, and transitional justice.”

The G7 stance aligns with priorities set by the Biden administration. Since Biden was elected president, his team requested a review of Syria’s policy, supposedly ending this month. Syrian officials in Washington are avoiding participating in public meetings, particularly Ambassador James Jeffrey and Joel Robern. This strategy appears to break with the previous approach of Donald Trump’s administration, based on “maximum pressure” on Damascus and “strategic patience.” Trump’s approach deployed tools including sanctions, preventing reconstruction, and imposing isolation on Damascus.

There are several key insights into how the Syrian file fits within the Biden administration’s priorities. First, it failed to appoint a special envoy to Syria; Jeffrey Feltman — a candidate for the position — has been instead appointed to the Horn of Africa. Second, Biden’s team did not take on a leadership role and support a counter-campaign against Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent decision to encourage Syria’s return to the “Arab fold.” Instead, the US merely delivered some messages through diplomatic channels. Third, no new sanctions list has been issued under the Caesar Act since the new administration’s arrival. Fourth, Biden has not mentioned Syria in any of his official speeches.


This article was translated and 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.

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