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US-Gulf tensions mount over restrictions on Syria reconstruction

Gulf states are seeking to become major economic players in post-war Syria, but US sanctions are causing some states to proceed with caution.
A construction crane is seen as smoke rises from Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, Syria April 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho - RC16C2D4AC60
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Since December 2018, Syria has achieved major diplomatic victories in terms of Damascus’ reintegration into the Arab world’s diplomatic fold. Regional states, which, to various extents, supported the Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime earlier in the conflict, have mostly come around to accepting the inevitable and started normalizing their relations with Syria. Yet the United States shuns Syria’s re-entry into the mainstream diplomatic arena of Arab states, believing that regional regimes should later leverage the opening of ties with Damascus as a bargaining chip to extract greater concessions from Assad.

By opposing the legitimacy of Assad’s government and continuing to impose sanctions on Damascus and individuals in Assad’s clique, Washington is creating dilemmas for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, such as the United Arab Emirates, that see Syria’s reconstruction as representing important opportunities for economic and geopolitical empowerment. Undoubtedly, securing lucrative contracts in Syria’s reconstruction will inevitably entail cooperating with the Damascus regime. Yet this reality has potential to create further complications in regional dynamics, as well as US-GCC relations.

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