On Sunday, a delegation from Syria, led by Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad, commenced a visit to Tehran. At the same time, there are reports suggesting that the collaboration between Iraq and Syria might further strain Iraq’s already vulnerable economy.
Syrian Political, Economic Delegation in Tehran
A Syrian political and economic delegation headed by Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad began a visit to Tehran. The visit, which will last for several days, aims to follow up on the agreements signed during Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Syria in May, Asharq al-Awsat reported.
In a statement, the Iranian embassy in Damascus said the delegation includes the ministers of Economy and Foreign Trade, Mohammad Samer Al-Khalil, and Communications and Technology, Iyad Al-Khatib.
The visit comes amid news of Iran’s intention to establish an Iranian free zone in central Syria to boost Iranian investments and strengthen economic relations between the two countries.
The meetings of the Joint Economic Committee in Tehran, which will last until the end of this week, will follow up on the implementation of 15 memorandums of understanding that were signed during Raisi’s visit. They cover a variety of sectors, including energy, agriculture, free zones, communications and others.
Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Issa Zarepour announced last week that Iran will help Syria in the manufacture of communication satellites.
Moreover, the head of the Syrian-Iranian Joint Chamber of Commerce, Fahd Darwish, revealed in press statements a plan to establish an Iranian free zone in central Syria with the aim of “fostering the Iranian investment environment in Syria” and promoting the bilateral economic ties.
“Free zones are among the most important tributaries of the national economy of countries, and a basis for investments and platforms for import and export,” he stated.
The Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart had signed a memorandum of understanding for comprehensive and long-term strategic cooperation, as well as an MoU related to free zones and minutes of a meeting for cooperation in the field of railways and civil aviation.
Normalizing Assad Has Made Syria’s Problems Even Worse
Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the Syria and Counterterrorism and Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute, has written along analysis for Foreign Policy.
In his analysis, titled “Normalizing Assad Has Made Syria’s Problems Even Worse,” Lister analyzes the consequences of regional efforts to reengage and normalize Syria’s regime, particularly under President Bashar al-Assad. The author argues that Saudi Arabia’s decision to pivot and reengage with Assad, followed by the Arab League’s embrace of the regime, has had significant negative repercussions on Syria’s stability and humanitarian situation.
The article highlights several key points:
- Aid Access: One of the core goals behind the normalization of Assad’s regime was to stabilize Syria and facilitate humanitarian aid efforts. However, Russia’s veto of the United Nations’ mechanism for cross-border aid provision into Syria’s northwest has severely impacted aid access to the region. The regime’s offer to open aid access with impractical conditions has not been effective, leaving vulnerable populations in dire need.
- Captagon Trade: Regional states had hoped that reengaging with Assad would curb the illegal captagon trade. However, the regime’s promises to tackle the issue were deemed unreliable, and large quantities of Syrian-made captagon pills continue to be seized across the region, with German authorities discovering a production facility in Germany.
- Refugee Returns: The normalization of Assad’s rule was intended to encourage the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. However, the conditions under the regime and the absence of meaningful concessions have deterred refugee returns. Instead, refugees have increased migration towards Europe, leading host countries to enact policies to encourage departures.
- Economic Collapse and Violent Escalation: Syria’s economy has significantly deteriorated, with the Syrian pound losing value. The regime’s corruption and fiscal mismanagement have contributed to the economic collapse. Additionally, violent escalations, such as regime attacks in Daraa and northwest Syria, have exacerbated instability and insurgency.
- Terrorism: The normalization of Assad’s regime has negatively impacted international efforts to counter the Islamic State (ISIS). Regional partners’ support for Assad’s rule has diminished the leverage of U.S.-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces, and ISIS has taken advantage of the situation, conducting aggressive attacks in regime-controlled areas.
- Diplomatic Stalemate: The normalization of Assad’s regime has hindered meaningful diplomacy and a resolution to Syria’s crisis. Assad has shown no intention to reengage in diplomatic processes, further complicating efforts to address the conflict.
Overall, the article argues that the regional efforts to normalize Assad’s regime have worsened Syria’s problems, leading to a dark and uncertain period for the country’s future. The author emphasizes that the consequences of the normalization efforts were foreseen but ignored, and the Syrian people continue to bear the brunt of the costs.
How a ‘Jihadi drug’ resurrected war-torn Syria as a narco-state
British analyst James E. Baldwin wrote a long report for The Telegraph, in which he discusses the booming drug industry in war-torn Syria, focusing on the synthetic drug Captagon. Syria has become a major producer of Captagon, which has become a “financial lifeline” for the Assad regime, according to the UK government. The drug trade has grown rapidly, and the pills are flooding the global market, causing addiction issues across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf states. The Assad regime is believed to have ties to the trade, with corrupt officials facilitating production and distribution.
Despite its involvement in the drug trade, regional states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE are seeking to normalize relations with Syria. They hope that by reestablishing ties, they can address and contain the Captagon crisis. However, the Syrian state’s precarious structure, corruption, and historical involvement in illicit drug trade raise doubts about the regime’s willingness or ability to curb Captagon production significantly.
The article also highlights Syria’s long history of involvement in the illicit drug trade, from the “French Connection” heroin network to the hashish industry in Lebanon during the occupation. Corruption has been a consistent feature of the Syrian state, making it challenging to tackle the drug trade effectively. Despite occasional arrests to demonstrate commitment to drug control, the trade continues largely unabated.
Overall, the article sheds light on the significant impact of the Captagon trade on Syria’s economy and political landscape, presenting challenges for regional states seeking to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
Carter Center Calls for Extension of Earthquake-related Exception to Sanctions on Syria
As the expiration date of General License 23 (GL 23) approaches, the Carter Center is urging the U.S. government to extend this crucial humanitarian exception to sanctions on Syria. GL 23, introduced in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey earlier this year, allowed for vital aid to reach those in need.
However, the six-month timeline of the exception has been deemed insufficient by humanitarian and development experts who stress that relief efforts, such as rebuilding hospitals and replacing complex medical equipment, will require years to complete.
The Carter Center wrote, “In the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey earlier this year, the U.S. government released General License 23 (GL 23), a humanitarian exception to sanctions on Syria, to allow for aid to reach those in need. This exception took effect Feb. 9, 2023, for a period of 180 days.
“This humanitarian carveout will expire Aug. 8. The Carter Center calls on the U.S. government to extend the exception, ideally following Switzerland’s model of an open-ended timeline. This would follow the precedent of other U.S. general licenses that have been open-ended.
“Such an extension is crucial to maximize the impact and reach of humanitarian efforts and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.
“The Carter Center recently released a report, Effectiveness of Humanitarian Exceptions to Sanctions: Lessons from the Syria Earthquake, assessing the effects of GL 23. The report documented good results. The move helped by removing obstacles to financial transactions tied to relief efforts. Some banks commended the breadth and clarity of GL 23 in reassuring the financial sector that some earthquake relief-related Syria transactions are permissible. Further, GL 23’s inclusion of non-U.S. actors and clarification from the U.S. Treasury about sending personal remittances have been widely welcomed and seen as impactful.
“However, some humanitarian and development experts say the exception’s six-month timeline is insufficient for carrying out all necessary relief efforts. Many relief operations, such as rebuilding hospitals and replacing complex medical equipment, will take years to complete. Moreover, GL 23 does not apply to U.S. export controls and has not been able to address the delays in access to specialized equipment such as excavators and sophisticated medical apparatus.
“Despite these shortcomings, the initial positive impact of GL 23 cannot be ignored, and it remains a welcome and much-needed measure. The Carter Center underscores the importance of extending GL 23 to ensure maximum humanitarian impact and relief across Syria. By adopting an extended and open-ended approach, the U.S. government can demonstrate its commitment to alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people and contribute significantly to the ongoing humanitarian efforts in the region.”
The opportunities and obstacles of revived Iraq-Syria relations
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, recently visited Syria in an effort to strengthen joint security and energy relations between the two countries.
The visit, according to The New arab, aimed to secure the shared border from infiltration by Islamic State (IS) militants and drug bands while also bolstering economic ties. Iraq and Syria, both having close ties to Iran, maintained relations throughout Syria’s civil war when other Arab states withdrew their ambassadors and closed their embassies in Damascus.
The visit comes at a time when other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, have also been rebuilding relations with the Syrian regime after years of tensions. Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended in 2011 over Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests, and several Gulf states supported the armed opposition to his rule.
During the visit, Iraq indicated that it is refusing the economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime by the United States. Iraq is also open to discussing rebuilding the Kirkuk-Baniyas oil pipeline with Syria. The pipeline, which had been shut down in the past due to political reasons and war damage, could provide a new outlet for Iraq’s oil exports.
However, cooperation between Iraq and Syria may place an increased burden on Iraq’s already-fragile economy. The country is facing challenges with the unwillingness of Turkey to resume the export of crude oil from the Kurdistan region to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, leading to a potential oil export gap.
The visit also included discussions on combating the IS insurgency in both countries and Syria’s possible involvement in implementing Iraq’s Route of Development.
Overall, while the visit aimed to strengthen ties and address security and economic issues, it may present some economic challenges for Iraq in the context of its relations with other countries in the region.