After many years of failing to find a political endgame to the Syrian crisis, Jordan announced, during a visit by King Abdullah II to Washington, D.C., in late July 2021, an initiative for dialogue between the actors in Syria and the government in Damascus, considering that pushing the dialogue forward in a coordinated manner is better than leaving things as they are now.
What does Jordan want?
At the end of last June, Jordanian media reported that King Abdullah II's initiative sought to ease US sanctions on the Syrian regime and bring Damascus back to the Arab system. It pointed to deep Jordanian-Russian coordination, meaning that Russia would work to curtail Iranian influence obstructing any progress towards a political settlement in Syria, while Jordan would seek to remove Arab and US obstacles.
It seems that Jordan has a now declared desire to end the Syrian crisis by laying initial foundations for a workable solution. Therefore, the Jordanian monarch sought to present this idea to the Biden administration, given that Washington is the most influential country in the Syrian issue at the international level, especially in light of US sanctions on Syria and the consequences of the Caesar Act on restricting international political and economic movements towards Damascus.
It goes without saying that Amman has not severed its diplomatic relations with Damascus since the beginning of the Syrian war, and the Syrian embassy in Amman has remained operational. Nor was the Jordanian embassy in Damascus closed, although its work was affected by the security situation in the Syrian capital. Jordan pursued a policy aimed at keeping Syria as a cohesive and united state in which there are no extremist terrorist militias affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS or other extremist jihadist organizations, or sectarian groups linked to Iran, which could threaten Jordan's security and interests at any moment.
Based on this policy and King Abdullah II's recent initiative, Jordan believes that the more Syria succeeds in establishing political stability, the better its relationship with Jordan will be. This understanding is based on the premise that the relations of the two countries are very important to both of them and their interests.
Although the Jordanian king did not speak publicly or in detail about a clear-cut offer on Syria, his call for dialogue with Damascus intersects with a similar move by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, who called for building an international dialogue track to reach a political settlement based on US-Russian understandings. Perhaps the Jordanian king also depends on these understandings and invests in his good relations with the Russian and American sides, in order to support, develop and market his initiative.
If the initiative is implemented, Jordan will possibly seek to raise other issues it deems important, including security coordination with Syria in issues that directly affect Jordanian security, such as frequent drug smuggling from Syria, which has increased significantly during the past period, or with regard to managing the increasing refugee burden on Jordan in light of economic and security pressures. Although the return of Syrian refugees in Jordan to their country may require some time, appropriate conditions and a safe environment, the need for coordination between Damascus and Amman on this issue has become an urgent security necessity. It is also an economic necessity mainly for Jordan, and for Syria as well.
Inseparable from these issues is the fight against the threat of terrorist and extremist elements in Syria. Increasing coordination in this regard will ensure greater internal security for Jordan, which is vital in light of the domestic pressures the Kingdom is facing.
Moreover, Jordan, through its dialogue initiative with Damascus, wants to benefit from ending the war in Syria and to participate in the reconstruction process. This is consistent with Russia's desire to launch investments in Syria and benefit from Arab and European money. Needless to say, pressing ahead with this path will be a great breathing space for the Jordanian economy. Implicitly, the Jordanian King's initiative seeks to ease economic sanctions on Syria, and freeze any new sanctions under the "Caesar Act" in order to make room for activating economic cooperation with Damascus, and to breathe life into the two-way trade exchange, whether directly from Jordan or the latter being a major partner or collaborator in these moves. This is in addition to strengthening cooperation in the oil, electricity and water sectors, which was highlighted during the visits of Syria's energy ministers to Jordan in mid-June.
During his recent visit to the United States, King Abdullah II of Jordan offered US President Joe Biden to join an international working group (which brings together Russia, Jordan and other countries) to agree on a road map for a solution in Syria. It is a call based on a clear realization that this road map cannot be implemented without US approval, and that it will guarantee the interests of the US in achieving a political settlement, in a way that removes Iranian obstacles and prevents the Iranian presence in Syrian territory from threatening Israel's security.
The application of this map, which was revealed by Western and Arab media, necessarily requires cooperation between the United States, Russia and the President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad. The implementation of the initiative may frame the strategy of the administration of President Biden on Syria, after more than 7 months in the White House.
Prospects and Trajcetories
In the past year, there have been numerous meetings between Russian and Jordanian security officials and politicians, in a sign of Amman’s desire to play a new and more effective role in the Syrian crisis, and this means that the most important country supporting the initiative will be Russia. Furthermore, the efforts undertaken by the Jordanian state will support Moscow's political vision regarding bringing Damascus back to the Arab system, its political and economic recovery and start, at a later stage, the reconstruction of what was destroyed by the war.
Damascus, too, and regardless of Iranian influence, will welcome the Jordanian initiative as it is based on dialogue and does not involve any political dictates. The initiative will guarantee Damascus a political and economic comeback at an important and sensitive time for it on the Arab arena. It is also critical in light of Damascus' need for an "Arab depth" to counter the pressures arising from regional projects and address the deterioration of economic and living conditions.
As for Israel, despite its relatively strained relations with Jordan during the last period, it will most likely support the initiative. It may see the initiative as an international path that helps to get rid of the dilemma of the Iranian presence in Syria, and find ways to achieve this, at least near its borders if not throughout the Syrian territory.
For most Arab countries, it is likely that they will also be supportive of the Jordanian endeavor seeking a solution in Syria, especially since the continued failure to resolve the Syrian crisis, which has lasted more than ten years, will only exacerbate their problems, especially with regard to the issue of terrorist groups, or even the consequences of Syria's geopolitical absence and economic impact.
Attention remains directed to the United States, which may find in the rapprochement with Russia on the Syrian arena an opportunity to strengthen the path of dialogue and peace in that Arab country. Perhaps the Jordanian initiative will be a good example of this. It seems that the step taken by the Biden administration on July 28 to impose a new package of sanctions on the Syrian regime outside the Caesar Act, is related to these moves, especially since those sanctions did not target any economic sector. This may be interpreted as a double American message to Russia and Jordan. On the one hand, Washington is hinting to the Russian side that it is possible to proceed with a political settlement on the basis of joint cooperation, and that this step is a confidence-building measure, especially since President Vladimir Putin had requested easing or freezing Caesar Act-introduced sanctions against Syria during a bilateral summit that brought him together with his US counterpart in Geneva mid-June last. On the other hand, the American message to Jordan is that its economic cooperation and increased interaction with Damascus will not find an American veto during the coming period.
Perhaps bypassing the barrier of Caesar Act sanctions means overcoming the most important obstacles that prevent the implementation of the Jordanian initiative. As for the obstacle represented by the continued Iranian presence and influence in Syria, it can be addressed by finding a joint international mechanism to control Iranian moves, and setting a time frame for the form and implementation of the settlement in Syria. Jordan, through its initiative, should also participate mainly in this mechanism, as well as major Arab countries that are key to the solution in Syria, along with Israel, Russia and the United States.
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