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US rules out normalizing with Syria’s Assad

Published: Updated:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed US opposition Wednesday to normalization with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has seen growing acceptance from Arab nations that have concluded he won the brutal civil war.

Meeting with his Israeli and UAE counterparts, Blinken said that President Joe Biden’s administration’s policy on Syria was largely focused on humanitarian relief.

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“What we have not done, and what we do not intend to do, is to express any support for efforts to normalize relations or rehabilitate Mr. Assad,” Blinken told a joint news conference, not referring to Assad as president.

The United States has not “lifted a single sanction on Syria or changed our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution, which we believe is necessary and vital,” Blinken said.

A US law known as the Caesar Act came into force last year that punishes any companies that work with Assad as he seeks to rebuild after a decade of war.

The Caesar Act, accompanied by a slew of US sanctions on Syrians close to Assad, aims to force accountability for human rights abuses and to encourage a political solution in Syria.

The United Arab Emirates has earlier said that the Caesar Act made it difficult for Syria to return to the Arab League.

But individual Arab states have been warming to Assad, with Jordanian King Abdullah II, a key US ally, earlier this month speaking to the Syrian leader by phone for the first time since the war.

Syria has also worked with Egypt and Jordan to bring badly needed fuel into neighboring Lebanon, from which Syrian troops were pushed out in 2005.

Syria’s war has killed around half a million people, displaced millions of others and helped allow the rise of the brutal Islamic State extremist group.

Assad has crushed opposition through brute force and an alliance with Russia and Iran, although he still lacks control of northern areas run either by Kurdish fighters or Turkey and its proxies.

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