What is being said in political circles about the way the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, is negotiating with international powers goes beyond surrealism. His performance shows him as a world champion. He is the one who can boast of announcing his victory over a universal conspiracy, and over the fact that the international, regional, and Arab forces that once took part in the attempt to overthrow him are now negotiating with him. He is basing his negotiations position on his strength point that he was not defeated in the war, but rather, he defeated everyone.
The past few months have not only witnessed Turkish, Saudi, and Egyptian security or political negotiations with the Syrian regime but American negotiations also. These negotiations went as far as holding high-level direct meetings between U.S. officials and officials of the Syrian regime in the Sultanate of Oman. But before going through the details of these meetings and the basis of their discussions, here are some points and notes.
A reading of the international scene shows a recent Chinese breakthrough on the global and Middle Eastern stage, which Beijing highlighted in its sponsorship of the Saudi-Iranian agreement, and, subsequently, in its initiative to stop the Russian war on Ukraine. That was followed by French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Beijing, where he met with President Xi Jinping. After that, Macron declared that Europe should not remain dependent on the United States of America, which suggests disputes and differences within the same alliance, i.e., America and Europe, in addition to the European-European differences over many files.
Assad and Imposing Terms
Likewise, in light of the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement under Chinese auspices, an American-Saudi dispute and an American-Israeli dispute have emerged, which led to the recent leaks that are said to affect American national security and expose American relations with its allies. All of that leads to a state of weakness in that axis. In Israel, there are internal problems that could explode at any moment. And in the Arab world, there are also disputes among several countries regarding Syria’s return to the Arab League. It is said that five countries oppose this matter. That prompts Assad to say that he does not want to confuse anyone by returning to the Arab League but, rather, he is focused and keen on developing bilateral relations.
Despite the ongoing Arab negotiations with Assad to discuss restoring relations with him or bringing him back to the Arab League, there is also a divergence of views between countries. For example, in the meeting between their foreign ministers, Egypt stressed the need to implement Resolution 2254, which talks about a political transfer of power. That resolution was absent from the Saudi-Syrian statement, which talked about a political solution without mentioning any international resolutions. That makes Assad more complacent with everything that is going on around him and with the differences of opinions between the countries. Right before that, and during his visit to Moscow to discuss normalizing relations with Turkey, Bashar al-Assad imposed difficult terms like refusing to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the elections and setting a basic condition regarding setting a timetable for the Turkish withdrawal from Syria.
Bashar al-Assad is repeating the same conditions to the Americans as well. According to sources, several direct meetings were held between delegations from the Syrian regime and the Americans in the Sultanate of Oman. Preparations were made through several indirect meetings between the two parties that discussed several points, the most important of which was the release of 7 American hostages in Syria, especially Austin Tice. Later, a comprehensive political paper was set, which necessitated going to a direct dialogue. Based on that, the pace of negotiations between Arab countries and the Syrian regime accelerated.
Here, a question can be raised whether the Saudi path of opening up to Damascus is similar to the same path of opening up to Tehran. Meaning, Saudi Arabia was aware of the ongoing U.S.-Iranian and U.S.-Syrian negotiations and wanted to get in front of that by pursuing its own path away from the Americans.
Drugs and Hostages
The political paper being negotiated between the Syrian regime and the Americans includes several points in which the priorities differ for each party. The Americans set conditions that start with releasing the hostages and, afterward, discussing the political field. Assad, on the other hand, stipulates the political discussion as well as the American withdrawal from the east of the Euphrates because he wants to control the oil-rich areas, in addition to reaching an understanding on the Kurdish matter. The release of the hostages will subsequently be the result of these negotiations.
Assad deals with the situation as ongoing and lasting. He is back to using an old-new game based on blackmailing the countries of the world. So, he blackmails one of the parties with the drug smuggling issue and blackmails the Americans with the hostages’ card.
Accordingly, Assad uses the time investment game, which the Syrian regime established by Hafez al-Assad is most proficient. Perhaps the mechanisms of this investment have developed based on baptizing the relationship with Iran with blood.
According to information, the American-Syrian negotiations focus on Syrian internal affairs. And while Assad proposes finding a solution to the issue of the Kurds and stopping American support for them, others consider that, in exchange for dealing with Assad, the Americans want him to deal realistically with the Kurdish matter, in addition to other files related to the situation in southern Syria, especially the Golan file.
It is still too early to speculate on all these paths and their results. Estimates and positions differ between those who believe that Assad will remain in power and that everyone will eventually deal with him and those who believe that this can never happen without a real political solution that leads to a change in the political foundations or the nature of Syria as an entity.
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.