A White House National Security Council official told The National that the Biden administration was “encouraged” by a meeting between Syrian and other Arab foreign ministers that took place in Amman on Monday.
The comments mark a significant shift in rhetoric from the US, which has previously strongly discouraged regional engagement with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The foreign ministers of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt issued a joint statement after the meeting that said it was the beginning of a process “aimed at reaching a solution to the crisis in Syria, consistent with Security Council Resolution 2254, and addressing all the consequences of the humanitarian, political and security crisis.”
A National Security Council representative told The National that the administration was “encouraged to see the joint communique mention many priorities that we and our partners share.” The official added the US hopes “that the Syrian regime will follow through on its commitments, in good faith and in accordance with international norms.”
The official was pleased that the statement mentioned UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which was passed in 2015 and calls for a solution to the crisis in Syria “through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.”
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel was asked about the meeting in Amman. “We have seen those reports and understand that a communique was issued by the participants talking about their efforts to reach a solution relating to the crisis in Syria that is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. And we continue to believe that a political solution as outlined in 2254 remains the only viable option to the conflict,” he said.
The State Department has previously issued strong statements against regional countries normalizing or engaging with Damascus. In February, the State Department said it was opposed to countries upgrading ties with Assad even if it was part of an effort to help Syria with earthquake relief.
US partners in the Middle East have ignored the warnings against normalizing with Assad. Saudi Arabia is currently leading an effort to bring Damascus back into the fold and restore Syria’s Arab League membership. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that a potential normalization deal between Damascus and its neighbors would involve Arab countries lobbying the US to lift sanctions on Syria, which are designed to prevent the country’s reconstruction.
On top of keeping Syria under sanctions, the US also maintains an occupation force of about 900 troops in eastern Syria and backs the Kurdish-led SDF in the region. The joint statement released by the Arab foreign ministers on Monday expressed support for Syria regaining control of its territory, which would include US-occupied areas, a fact that wasn’t mentioned by Patel or the National Security Council official.
The ministers agreed to work to “support Syria and its institutions in any legitimate efforts to extend its control over its lands and impose the rule of law, and end the presence of armed and terrorist groups on Syrian lands, and stop foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs.”