US reaffirms rejection of rapprochement with Syria after Moscow’s meeting
In a meeting in Washington, Barbara A. Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said on Wednesday during a meeting with a delegation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) that the US policy towards Syria “has not changed.”
On Tuesday the SNC delegation, headed by Bader Jamous, President of the Syrian Negotiation Commission, arrived in Washington DC on the back of the recent diplomatic movement by the Syrian opposition in Turkey against the accelerating Arab outreach to Syria.
The delegation included Salem al-Meslet, president of the SNC, Ibrahim Bro as the representative of the Kurdish National Council (ENKS) of the Negotiation Committee, and Fadwa Ajaili as the representative of independents, according to the Negotiation Committee’s Facebook account.
In a tweet, the Bureau of Near East Asian Affairs in the Department of State said after the meeting “no normalization with the Assad regime in the absence of enduring political change and strong support for UNSCR 2254 including the role of the Syrian opposition.”
As Assad returns to Arab fold, Syrians watch with hope, fear
Syrians living on opposite sides of the largely frozen battle lines dividing their country are watching the accelerating normalization of ties between the government of Bashar Assad and Syria’s neighbors through starkly different lenses, according to the Associated Press.
The recent warming of relations between Arab states and the Syrian government is causing concern among opposition activists who fear being further isolated and abandoned, AP added.
While residents in government-held Syria are hoping that the rapprochement will bring more trade and investment and ease the crippling economic crisis, those in remaining opposition-held areas of the north are protesting against the move. The rapprochement is also a cause for fear among opposition activists who are increasingly afraid that the government will recapture control of the remaining opposition territory, the report also said.
AP quoted Khaled Khatib, a worker at a non-governmental organization in northwest Syria, saying that seeing the regional warming of relations with Damascus is “very painful, shameful and frustrating to the aspirations of Syrians”. Saudi Arabia, which once backed Syrian rebel groups, has recently done an about-face in its stance on the Assad government and is pushing its neighbors to follow suit.
The kingdom has been coaxing other member states to restore Syria’s membership in the Arab League, which will host a meeting next month. Although some member states remain holdouts, the Saudi-Syria rapprochement is a “game changer” for Assad, according to Swiss-Syrian researcher and professor Joseph Daher.
Turkey denies discussing troop withdrawals from Syria in Moscow
A senior Turkish official has denied that Turkey had discussed the withdrawal of its troops from Syria in the latest round of talks between Iran, Russia, Syria and Turkey’s defence and intelligence chiefs in Moscow on Tuesday, MEE reported.
The Syrian defence ministry said the talks discussed the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria alongside the opening of the strategic M4 highway, which paves the way for the revival of Syria’s trade with neighbouring countries.
The Syrian and Turkish defence ministers previously held talks in Moscow in December, marking the highest-level encounter between the two countries since the war began.
“Turkey has never negotiated an issue regarding the withdrawal of its forces from Syria during the talks in Moscow,” the senior official told Middle East Eye. “We have discussed possible joint means of fighting against the Syrian arm of PKK and its armed wing, YPG.”
The official said that any Syrian message claiming otherwise is an attitude that goes against the constructive role of the Turkish government in the talks.
The official added that the second topic discussed in the talks was the return of Syrian refugees.
“Turkey has called for the activation of the political resolution process under United Nations overview and to facilitate honourable and voluntary return of refugees back to their country in a secure way,” the official said.
“Turkey reiterated its previous arguments which were laid out in the past four meetings in Moscow. The condition of the Turkish army’s withdrawal from Syria would be with the end of the YPG threat and that the regime and its allies should contribute to the resolution.”
Syrian-Iranian Business Forum discusses difficulties facing joint economic, trade cooperation
The Syrian-Iranian Business Forum discussed the difficulties facing economic and trade cooperation between businessmen in both countries in light of the unjust measures imposed on both countries, and proposals that would facilitate work of the private sector, increase investment and establish partnerships to promote the level of economic and trade relations between the two countries, according to SANA.
During the forum held in Damascus, Chairman of Syrian-Iranian Commerce Chamber, Fahd Darwish reviewed a group of proposals that focused on the necessity of activating the signed Syrian-Iranian free trade agreement to take its role without obstacles and working to solve other problems regarding the relation between both countries
Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade, Dr. Muhammad Samer Al-Khalil, said that the forum constitutes a remarkable opportunity through which the representatives of the business sector can get acquainted with the obstacles facing development of the trade and investment relations, in addition to inspecting the legal environment that may help enhancing cooperation between the two countries.
A number of participants in the forum, including Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Chairman of the Joint Syrian-Iranian Economic Committee on the Iranian side, Mehrdad Bazrpash, Treasurer of the joint Syrian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Ammar Dalloul and other participants at the forum, have underlined the importance of the forum in developing the economic relations between the two countries and the necessity of benefiting from the strategic economic depth between them.