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Jordan’s king, Syria’s leader speak by phone for first time in decade

Jordan is emerging as a chief advocate of restoring ties with Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad phoned neighboring Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Sunday, marking the first publicly known conversation between the two leaders since Syria’s brutal civil war began in 2011.

The pair “discussed relations between the two brotherly countries and ways of enhancing cooperation,” according to a statement by Jordan’s royal palace.

Abdullah said his government supports Syria's territorial integrity, stability and sovereignty – a nod to Assad's stance that all of war-torn Syria return to Damascus' control.

Assad has largely been isolated by his neighbors and the wider international community for his government’s extensive war crimes throughout the conflict.

Jordan was among the first of Syria’s neighbors to cut ties, and one of several Arab states to back rebels who sought to overthrow Assad’s dictatorial rule.

Abdullah called for Assad to step down as Damascus’ forces unleashed unrestrained violence against a peaceful uprising against the regime a decade ago.

Jordan also became a beachhead for regional and Western intelligence operations seeking both to disrupt Assad’s forces and separately to fight the Islamic State.

Yet ties between the adversaries have been warming quickly. Last week, Jordan reopened its main border crossing with Syria following discussions between the two countries’ defense ministers.

The thaw may also be a sign that the United States, which has spearheaded the international campaign to isolate Assad’s regime, may be letting up.

Abdullah, who has been facing public economic grievances and a potential legitimacy crisis at home, has come out in support of Damascus’ reintegration into the Arab League.

During a meeting at the White House in July, the king reportedly urged President Joe Biden to shift US policy and join with Israel, Russia and other governments in a new approach to Syria’s stability that would marginalize Iran’s role in the conflict.

US officials deny there is any change in Washington’s policy towards the Syrian government, saying Washington stands firmly behind a 2015 UN resolution calling for free and fair elections in Syria.

The Biden administration has also expanded upon the Caesar sanctions by targeting the Assad regime’s notorious prison system.

The Caesar sanctions, named for a defector who helped document the regime’s widespread war crimes, allow the US to target companies and entities for doing business with the Damascus government.

But Royal Jordanian, Jordan's flagship airline, announced last month that it would soon restart direct flights to Damascus for the first time since the war began.