The State Department on Tuesday said that the US opposes other countries normalizing with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad following high-level talks between Syria and Turkey.
The defense ministers of Syria and Turkey met in Moscow at the end of December, marking the first time Ankara and Damascus held talks at that level since 2011. While sources told Middle East Eye no deals were made at the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he expects to meet with his Syrian and Russian counterparts later this month.
The Turkish rapprochement with Syria represents a significant shift as Ankara severed relations with Damascus in 2012 and supported the failed regime change effort against Assad by backing anti-government fighters in Syria. Even though it’s clear Assad isn’t going anywhere, the US opposes Syria’s neighbors normalizing with his government.
“We do not support countries upgrading their relations or expressing support to rehabilitate the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad,” State Department Ned Price told reporters. When asked if the US spoke to Turkey about the issue, Price said, “We’ve made very clear to all of our allies and partners that now is not the time to normalize relations, now is not the time to upgrade relations.”
The current US policy against Syria, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken has put it, is to “oppose” the country’s reconstruction after over a decade of war. Price accused Assad of continuing “to inflict atrocities on the Syrian people,” but a UN special rapporteur recently detailed how US sanctions are harming ordinary Syrians.
Alena Douhan, a special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, visited Syria and found sanctions were having “catastrophic effects” on Syrians of all walks of life, including by causing medicine shortages, and called for them to be lifted.
“In the current dramatic and still-deteriorating humanitarian situation, as 12 million Syrians grapple with food insecurity, I urge the immediate lifting of all unilateral sanctions that severely harm human rights and prevent any efforts for early recovery, rebuilding, and reconstruction,’ Douhan told the UN Security Council in November.
On top of the sanctions, the US maintains an occupation force in eastern Syria of about 1,000 troops and backs the Kurdish-led SDF in the region, allowing the US to control a significant portion of Syrian territory. There’s no ending sight to the US siege on Syria, as the White House said in October it has “no plans” to lift the sanctions or end its military presence in the country.