Intel: Oman ambassador returns to Syria

al-monitor The UAE Embassy is pictured in Damascus after its reopening, Syria, Dec. 27, 2018.  Photo by MAHER AL MOUNES/AFP via Getty Images.
Joe Snell

Joe Snell

@joesnell03

Topics covered

syrian civil war, bashar al-assad, diplomatic relations, gulf states, embassy

Oct 8, 2020

Oman reinstated its ambassador to Syria on Sunday following an eight-year hiatus. The move highlighted progress by some Arab states to slowly  rebuild ties with Assad's regime. 

Oman’s Ambassador Turki bin Mahmood al-Busaidy, appointed to the role in March, became the first representative from a Gulf Arab state to return to their post in Damascus.

On the verge of Syria’s civil war in 2012, Oman joined other Gulf Arab countries in withdrawing diplomats from the capital. However, while other countries shuttered their embassies, Oman kept theirs open through the years of conflict.

Why it matters: Oman’s late leader Sultan Qaboos conducted a noninterventional regional policy and continued to maintain ties with Syria after the 2011 uprising turned into a violent civil war. Qaboos reconciled the decision with the belief that his country’s role in the conflict would be to provide humanitarian support. 

The country's previous foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, visited Syria only twice since the civil war erupted, including a trip in 2015 to discuss solutions to the conflict and again in 2019 to meet with his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem and President Bashar al-Assad to discuss bilateral relations and regional security.

Now, Gulf nations are considering reconciliation with Damascus.

In October 2018, the border crossing between Syria and Jordan was reopened. Two months later, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit Damascus since the start of the Syrian conflict. 

Even US-ally the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who initially supported armed groups opposed to Assad’s forces, reopened its mission in Syria’s capital in 2018, although it remains at the level of charge d’affaires. A day later, Bahrain followed suit. At the time, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said the UAE Embassy reopening was a move to exert influence in Syria to counter that of Iran.

“I think they are hoping that over time that by financial and diplomatic reengagement with Damascus, they can reduce Iranian influence,” Ford told Reuters in 2018.

What’s next: With support from Russia, Iran and Iran-backed groups, Assad has recovered much of Syria. Now, the regime must weather a slew of new sanctions by the United States aimed at strangling the regime economically.

The region is still cautious to reengage with Assad. In 2018, as UAE and Bahrain reopened their embassies, most analysts at the time described a shift in regional policy and a major step in improving relations.  Egypt has signalled it is willing to consider a go-slow approach to re-engaging with Syria.  But the 22-member Arab League has yet to reopen its doors to Syria after its membership was suspended in 2011. Kuwait, for example, has said it will reopen its foreign office only if there is an agreement within the Arab League. Other Gulf states that more prominently backed Syrian opposition forces like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have yet to reestablish ties.  The US opposes any steps to normalize relations with the Syrian government.

Know more: Al-Monitor covers efforts by human rights groups to lodge a criminal complaint on behalf of Syria's chemical attack victims. 

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