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Jordan inching towards pulling Syria back from the brink

Rami Rayess

Published: Updated:

The US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley is doing a whirlwind tour of the Middle East visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Israel.

He is smoothing the path for a deal the US will sign with Iran in Vienna at the end of this month. Some sort of agreement will happen.

Washington badly needs a diplomatic accomplishment following its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the debacle that saw a victorious Taliban return to the position it held before the US invasion in 2001.

It serves US interests at this political moment, and this is what counts for the White House.

As Iran is exhausted from all the proxy wars in the region, and from the harsh sanctions that were re-imposed by Trump after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, it too must sign some sort of deal in Vienna.

The lifting of sanctions – to any degree - will offer Tehran some respite.

In return for this Iran will dampen the activities of its militant arms in the region. They will exist in an ether, hiding behind the constant threat that they can be employed when needed, but the different group’s powerbases will diminish.

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Hassan Nasrallah is unlikely to be happy at the thought of a weakened Hezbollah in Lebanon, but alas, he has no say in the matter.

One country that isn’t on Malley’s itinery that nevertheless is playing a crucial role in regional diplomatic dynamics is Jordan.
While the US is focusing on Iran, Jordan is giving its full attention to Syria.

The Jordan Initiative is an attempt to bring Syria back from the brink and it is slowly, but surely moving on the right track.

The multi-faceted policy has been in the making for months and culminated in two summits that saw King Abdullah II hold talks with US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley is doing a whirlwind tour of the Middle East visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Israel, likely smoothing the path for a deal between the US and Iran in Vienna at the end of this month. (Stock image)
The US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley is doing a whirlwind tour of the Middle East visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Israel, likely smoothing the path for a deal between the US and Iran in Vienna at the end of this month. (Stock image)

A new step-by-step approach, reminicant of diplomatic tools employed by Henry Kissinger in the Middle East in the 1970s is being employed on the Syrian Regime.

The initiative has several goals. These include: the removal of Iranian strategic weapons; changes to Assad’s policies towards the Syrian people, and encourage the displaced to return home; mobilization against ISIS, and termination of Assad’s chemical weapons program.

A gradual relaxation of hostile strategies should be reciprocated by Assad by distancing himself from Tehran and its proxies.

Normalizing relations along with a return to the Arab political system will boost Assad’s image and will turn the page, somewhat, on the causes of the civil war that rests at his doorstep.

Amman will aim to spin the initiative as a win-win for all stakeholders involved in the Syrian crisis.

Jordan itself will benefit on several levels. It can reassume its regional role as a key interlocutor once again. It has been in the shade since the signing of the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Amman can help tackle the refugee crisis with more than one million Syrians living in the country, and it will pave the way for it to participate in post-war reconstruction efforts. This will boost its ailing economy.

The Yarmouk water agreement with Syria can be reestablished allowing it to resolve its historic water scarcity problem. With Russia and Syria acting as guarantors it will help keep Iran and its militias from its borders.

There are claims that Jordan considers that withdrawing foreign troops from Syria could be a catalyst for the Assad regime to change its diplomatic tack. On the back of this Damascus could be encouraged to follow a peaceful solution based on UN Resolution 2254.

The ultimate challenge faced is one where Assad manipulates policies that suit him. He did not facilitate the inter-Syrian talks on the new constitution which would be key for launching a sustainable peace plan and create the gateway to putting an end to internal hostilities.

Jordan, the US and Russia need to be cautious when applying step-by-step diplomacy with Assad. He might get one chunk after the other, but without delivering his agreed inputs.

Going some way to resolving the Syrian crisis and getting Iran back on track in the Vienna nuclear talks will address two complicated issues that diminishes the threats that Tehran and Assad poses. If left unresolved the status quo will remain, and for the US it will hinder its ability to focus on confronting a powerful China.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.