Syria crisis

US has no plans to support normalization efforts with Syria’s Assad: Diplomat

Playing down any efforts to rehabilitate Assad, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and two senior senators blasted countries that had welcomed the Syrian president.

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The Biden administration has no plans to support efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or lift sanctions on the regime, the top US diplomat for the Middle East said Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told US lawmakers that Assad and “the coterie around him remain the single largest impediment” to a political solution in Syria.

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“The ultimate responsibility for this continued tragedy rests with Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, who brought his country to this terrible state and remains intransigent, refusing to provide Syrians any hope for a better future,” Leaf said in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken attention away from ongoing wars around the globe, including in Syria, Leaf said she planned to make Syria “a priority” within the State Department.

Leaf was recently confirmed to her position after the process had been blocked for one year due to political bickering between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The US diplomat said Washington would use all of its tools to press the Assad regime, including the Caesar Act sanctions.

Shocked that Assad was welcomed

Playing down any efforts to rehabilitate Assad, Leaf and two senior senators blasted countries that had welcomed the Syrian president.

Leaf said she was “shocked” to see Assad welcomed by the UAE in March. He made his first trip to an Arab country since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

The top Republican senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jim Risch, said the visit was “sickening.”

Reports suggest that some Arab states believe that bringing Syria back into the Arab League could drive a wedge between Damascus and Iran.

Syria’s membership in the Arab League has been suspended since the war started.

“I frankly am wholly skeptical. I think Assad takes from every direction, and he gives nothing in return,” Leaf said when discussing the potential to pull Assad away from Tehran and closer to Arab countries.

Read more: US condemns, warns Turkey against plans for military operation in Syria