At a time when the United Arab Emirates seeks to join Russia in providing high-level sponsorship for normalization between Syria and Turkey, the United States and other Arab countries are trying to halt the “normalization train.” Instead, the latter countries seek to set conditions, or “stations,” for the train to complete its journey to the final destination. In view of these circumstances, it is evident that Arab countries are divided over normalization.
According to information available to Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet next Wednesday in Moscow in the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Meanwhile, efforts are being made to arrange for UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to join the meeting as a fourth member.
This three-way (or four-way) meeting is scheduled to pave the way for a summit comprising the presidents of Russia (Vladimir Putin), Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) and Syria (Bashar al-Assad). According to available information, the UAE offered to host the summit, while it was rumoured that a senior Emirati official would participate in the summit if it was held in Moscow. It is known that Assad visited the UAE in mid-2022, where he met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. These matters were discussed in the meeting between Assad and Sheikh Abdullah in Damascus last Wednesday, in the second visit of the Emirati minister to Damascus after November 2021. According to the official Syrian news agency SANA, Assad described relations between the two countries as “historic,” adding: “It is natural that [relations] return to their strength which previously spanned decades, which would serve the interests of both countries and peoples.” SANA quoted Sheikh Abdullah as affirming “his country’s support for the stability of Syria and its sovereignty over all Syrian territory.” He also stressed “the UAE’s commitment and keenness to support efforts towards finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which restores the security, stability and unity of Syria.”
In related news, Turkey’s foreign minister plans to visit Washington on January 16 and 17 to brief US officials on the developments of normalization with Damascus and his meeting with Mekdad. He will also provide details about the Russian-sponsored “road map” in the security, military, political and economic sectors Under the agreement reached between defense ministers and intelligence chiefs of Syria, Turkey and Russia in recent weeks, the road map contemplates making arrangements for northeastern Syria, where U.S. forces are deployed to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against ISIS. A Western diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that a senior U.S. official would visit Ankara in the coming hours as part of efforts to mediate between Turkey and the Kurds in northeastern Syria.
Ankara is demanding that Moscow and Washington commit to implementing bilateral military agreements signed bilaterally at the end of 2019. These pledges included the withdrawal of the (Kurdish) People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main pillar of the SDF, from a buffer zone in northern Syria 30 km deep from Turkey’s borders and from the Manbij and Tal Rifaat regions. The agreement also required the withdrawal of heavy weapons from this strip.
The SDF says it has fulfilled its commitments and will not withdraw Asayish police forces or dismantle local councils. This statement responded to Turkey’s demand for the dismantling of all Kurdish military and civilian institutions in the region.
U.S. mediation aims to strike “compromises” between the Kurds and Ankara to prevent a new Turkish incursion ahead of Turkey’s mid-year presidential and parliamentary elections. Erdogan is betting that Washington and Moscow need his favor because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Erdogan is open to meeting Assad to agree arrangements against the PKK and YPG in northeastern Syria and establish safe zones to bring back Syrian refugees from his country, which hosts some 4 million Syrians. Another diplomat said: ” Ankara is not comfortable with leaks that came from Damascus after the Syrian, Turkish and Russian defense ministers met in Moscow, revealing that Turkey agreed to a complete withdrawal from northern Syria. “It is true that Ankara and Damascus consider the PKK a common threat, that they will act against any separatist agenda because it is an existential threat to the two countries.” The diplomat concluded that the two countries “will work to open the Aleppo-Latakia road.”
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed’s visit to Damascus came after official US statements “opposing normalization with Assad” issued the day after the Syrian-Turkish meetings. According to a diplomat, the US State Department — which was the only Western country to issue a statement against normalization — “has been working extensively with Paris, Berlin and London to agree on a four-way position that clearly rejects normalization.”
Contacts are underway to hold a meeting between representatives of the four countries and the United Nations Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen, in Geneva on January 23rd, before Pedersen’s visit to Damascus to meet with Mekdad. The planned meeting between the four countries and Pedersen intends to “confirm the position on normalization, and support the provision of funding for projects related to electricity, within the early recovery framework” stipulated by the international resolution on aid, which is being extended before January 10th. In this respect, the UAE proposes to contribute financing for economic and electricity projects in Syria insofar as the U.S. Caesar Act sanctions regime permits.
It is noteworthy that Jordan is currently leading efforts with Arab countries to reach “a common Arab position that defines Arab demands in exchange for normalization, without making this concession for free.” Jordan was the first country to open diplomatic channels at the highest level with Damascus and supported the signing of the “southern truce” and the de-escalation agreement between Russia and the United States in mid-2018.
A Western official explained: “Jordan says that the smuggling of Captagon, weapons and ammunition across the Syrian border increased after normalization started and that the Iranian presence has not declined in the south near the Jordanian border.” Amman alleges an expansion of ISIS activity there, pointing out that there are demands for coordination to pressure Damascus to provide political and geopolitical steps in the next stage.
In addition, an Arab source said that a Hamas delegation that includes the deputy leader of the movement in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, and leader Osama Abu Hamdan, will visit Damascus next week. This would be the first bilateral visit since the Hamas’ leadership left Damascus a decade ago, acknowledging that they were part of a Palestinian delegation that met with Assad last October. Sources said that the visit of Haya and Abu Hamdan aims to discuss the permanent return of Hamas to Syria, while also arranging for leadership visits to Damascus.
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.