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US slams Arab League move to restore Syria ties

Top Republican and Democrat on key congressional panel call for sanctions on countries that normalise with Assad
Syria's empty seat is pictured during an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on 7 May 2023 (AFP)

The United States on Monday criticised the Arab League decision to readmit Syria more than 12 years after the country was suspended following a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. 

US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that President Bashar Assad does not deserve normalisation after plunging the country into a brutal civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. 

“We do not believe that Syria merits readmission to the Arab League at this time,” added Patel.

“We continue to believe that we will not normalise our relations with the Assad regime, and we don’t support our allies and partners doing so either,” he said.

Republican and Democrat Congressional members took a more hardline approach and urged the Biden administration to use sanctions in a bid to prevent normalisation with Assad.

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“Readmitting Assad to the Arab League is a grave, strategic mistake that will embolden Assad, Russia and Iran to continue butchering civilians and destabilising the Middle East,” said a joint statement by Mike McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the top Democrat on the panel, Gregory Meeks.

“Assad has not changed. He will continue these atrocities, while setting a global precedent that ruthless dictators can wait out accountability for their crimes. The United States must fully enforce the Caesar Act and other sanctions to freeze normalisation efforts with this war criminal,” the statement added.

Arab League foreign ministers on Sunday adopted a decision to readmit Syria after more than a decade of suspension. 

The decision said Syria could resume its participation in Arab League meetings immediately, while calling for a resolution of the crisis resulting from Syria's civil war, including the flight of refugees to neighbouring countries and drug smuggling across the region.

Arab League readmits Syria as relations with Assad normalise
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However, Qatar, an outspoken opponent of Assad, said on Sunday it would not normalise relations with the Syrian government despite its readmission to the league.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Assad could attend an Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month "if he wishes to".

While Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, have pushed for Syria and Assad's rehabilitation, others, including Qatar, have remained opposed to full normalisation without a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Some have been keen to set conditions for Syria's return, with Jordan's foreign minister saying last week that the Arab League's reacceptance of Syria would only be the start of "a very long and difficult and challenging process".

Sunday's decision said JordanSaudi ArabiaIraqLebanonEgypt and the Arab League's secretary-general would form a ministerial contact group to liaise with the Syrian government and seek "step-by-step" solutions to the crisis.

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