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Members of Congress criticize normalization with Syria's Assad

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have spoken out against countries establishing ties with Syria as Jordan, Egypt and the UAE have increased diplomatic contacts with Damascus.
Syria Blinken

Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of Texas said Tuesday that establishing ties with President Bashar al-Assad would “legitimize cruelty” in Syria, joining other lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, in expressing concern about a trend among some Arab states which have increased diplomatic contacts with Syria. 

“I echo those expressing concerns with nations that have taken steps to renew formal diplomatic ties with Syria and Bashar al-Assad. This will only legitimize his ongoing cruelty and human rights violations,” Gonzalez said in a statement. "International condemnation is the only response.”

Gonzalez’ remarks follow similar ones expressed by Republicans Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho and Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas earlier this month. Risch and McCaul are the ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees, respectively. 

Neither Gonzalez nor his Republican colleagues mentioned any countries by name in reference to establishing ties with Assad, but they are likely referring to Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. All those countries are US partners that have been increased diplomatic contacts with Assad's governments in recent months. The UAE and Egypt have been calling for Syria’s readmission to the Arab League. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Syrian diplomats during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month. Jordan’s King Abdullah II had his first phone call in a decade with Assad this October. 

Egypt, Jordan and Syria are also working on an arrangement to deliver Egyptian gas to energy-starved Lebanon, though the US government supports this plan. Saudi Arabia is also considering reestablishing diplomatic contacts with Syria. 

The United States has placed several sanctions on Syria and wants Assad to be removed from power. The US government originally supported various rebel groups in the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, but the support waned under the Obama and Trump administrations. Assad’s government has now retaken most of the country

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, said the US would not support efforts to normalize ties with Damascus "until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution."

Many Arab states also supported Syrian rebel forces at the start of the war, but as the tide turned towards the government following the 2015 Russian intervention, they began reconsidering their positions.