New York, NY, May 8, 2023 – “The American Jewish Congress is alarmed by reports that efforts are underway to readmit Syria into the Arab League and rehabilitate Bashar Al Assad. Before any normalization takes place, Assad needs to talk to the opposition, eliminate the Iranian presence in Syria, and initiate apolitical transition in accordance with UNSCR 2254. Sharing this concern must be half of Syria’s population displaced by Assad’s actions over the past decade.

Regional countries face multiple threats emanating from Syria. Under Assad, Syria has become an exporter of illicit narcotics into Gulf states, providing sovereign cover and resources to a trade linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC’s primary proxy terror group, Hezbollah, is known to partially fund its terror operations from this trade. U.S.-brokered peace talks with Assad in the 1990s and 2000s have shown the Syrian regime’s inability to end Iranian malign activity or initiate political reform.

Arab League foreign ministers have voted to restore Syria’s membership and asummit meeting in Riyadh on May 19 could invite Assad to attend in person. But a clear divide is visible in the region over the approach. Two informal meetings of regional foreign ministers – in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 15, and in Amman, Jordan, on May 1 – remain inconclusive on the best way forward to permanently end conflict in Syria.

“We urge our partners not to continue down this path of normalization,” said aMay 3 statement jointly released by Michael McCaul, Chairman of the Chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee of U.S. Congress and Joe Wilson, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

Both Reps. McCaul and Wilson listened last month to an anonymous Syrian man – known simply as “The Gravedigger” – who testified from Europe via the Internet before a congressional hearing. He urged committee members to support the strengthening of sanctions against the Assad regime and the application of pressure as a deterrent for states working to rehabilitate him. “Rehabilitating an unrepentant war criminal,” said McCaul and Wilson, “ensures the regime will continue to bomb Syrians, undermine stability, and let Russia and Iran run rampant in Syria.”

The U.S. Administration agrees with the two Congressmen. Secretary Blinken called Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan and “re-affirmed U.S. support for UNSCR 2254 as the only viable solution to ending the conflict and emphasized our position against normalization of the Assad regime.”
Resolution 2254, unanimously adopted in 2015, mandates U.N.-facilitated talks between the Syrian regime and opposition members, with a nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties take initial steps towards a political transition.

Some of America’s allies in the region, like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, believe engaging Assad could help wean him off Iran and Hezbollah and kick off a political transition, and that they should take a lead in achieving this end.  But this argument is easily countered by the experience of U.S. diplomacy promoting Israel-Syria peace between 1991 and 1996, and again in 2010-2011. During those talks, Assad failed to muster the political will to make a clean break from Iran, end overland Hezbollah supply routes, and initiate political reforms.

Saudi Arabia, another key American partner, made ending the presence of foreign militias in Syria and the start of a political process part of the official statement after the Jeddah meeting. However, there is no indication from Assad that he intends to allow such a process, and his reentry into the Arab League will be seen as victory for an isolated regime and could intensify Iranian meddling.

The American Jewish Congress echoes the McCaul-Wilson call for America’s partners in the region to cease normalization with Assad, who is likely involved in war crimes against his people. Instead, we urge raising pressure on the regime to launch talks with the opposition and initiate steps for a ceasefire and a political transition in accordance with UNSCR 2254.”

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.