The diplomatic overtures of Jordan and Syria

Shehab Al-Makahleh
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Today, after more than seven years of war in Syria and after all the political tensions that took place between Amman and Damascus, the two countries are seeking to revive diplomatic ties.

The countries share a border and even enjoyed good economic relations before the events of 2011. The relations have since undergone strains, as Jordan was forced to reduce its diplomatic representation in Damascus for several years.

Still, Jordan managed to maintain a sliver of diplomatic ties without compromising on its political stance in order to revive relations with Syria at a suitable point after the war has ended.

Reviving diplomacy, trade

The visit of the Jordanian parliamentary delegation to Syria on Monday, 19 November 2018, aimed to buttress official Jordanian position towards Syria in preparation for subsequent political concessions on both sides in the interest of the Syrian and Jordanian peoples.

The Jordanian parliamentary delegation paid a visit to Damascus and held talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, the first of its kind since the beginning of the civil war in Syria.

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The Jordanian delegation, led by incumbent parliament member and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abdul Karim Al Dughmi, said that Assad had conveyed a message to King Abdullah II that Syria will not look back from now but look forward to boosting bilateral relations with Jordan.

The message, conveyed by al-Dughmi from Assad to King Abdullah, came after the two countries restored trade relations with each other on16 October, with the opening of Naseeb-Jaber crossing.

The letter of Assad to King Abdullah focused on turning the page and starting a new chapter by resuming diplomatic ties as a first step. Al Dughmi said to a closed circle: “President Assad received the Jordanian delegation cordially. He was very positive and transparent with us. His morale is high.”

Assad told the Jordanian delegation: “I do not want to touch on the past. I look forward to enhancing relations between our two countries”

Shehab Al-Makahleh

Assad speaks of the future

The Jordanian monarch appeared to respond to the Assad’s greetings and started consultations on the next step with the government. However, it is not clear what it means to look forward to Jordan-Syria relations.

Al-Dughmiq noted Assad as saying to the Jordanian delegation: “I do not want to touch on the past. I look forward to enhancing relations between our two countries”. Head of the Jordanian delegation also stressed that Assad did not refer to any negativity or fallacies made by the Jordanian government against Syria. “Our relationship will develop further. Greetings to his Majesty, the King,” Al Dughmi said quoting Assad.

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The Jordanian delegation also held talks with Syrian foreign minister, Speaker of the People’s Assembly and Muslim and Christian clerics as well as minister of justice.

The Jordanian delegation grouped senior parliamentary personalities including amongst others Nidal al-Ta'ani, head of the Jordanian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Awwad Al-Zawaideh, chair of the Parliament’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Committee.

Restrained normalization

As history is one of the main pillars in the narrative and analysis of political efforts, ideas and political movements in the Arab world, nature of international relations is associated with surrounding circumstances that affect the future of such ties. Thus, Jordan’s relationship with its neighbours such as Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia is concomitant with regional and international considerations.

With regard to Jordanian-Syrian relations, what is expected hinges on many internal stimuli (both in Syria and Jordan politically, economically and militarily), as well as in countries that support Jordan and Syria including the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.

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The reaction of the Syrian government to the Jordanian parliamentary move has been restrained. During the meetings of the Arab Parliament, a prominent member of the Jordanian Parliament, Khalil Attia, has called for the return of Syria to the Arab League. This is a new initiative that has been made after Jordanian parliamentary visit to Syria last month, which indicates that Amman is anxious to resume political relations with Damascus.

Jordanian sources confirm that contacts with Syria are in progress at various levels. However, Syrian officials believe these talks are improving but not to the expectations of both countries.

Signals from both capitals reveal that the two sides “are not in a rush” to restore full diplomatic ties at the level of ambassadors at present due to various regional and international considerations and hindrances.

People-state perspectives

Jordanian officials close to the Syrian regime were told that the opportunity was available to appoint a Jordanian ambassador to Damascus and to send a Syrian ambassador to Amman, while the United States was still pressing other countries to prevent a normalization of relations between the two sides.

Though the Jordanian embassy in Damascus has kept its activities at the level of Chargé D'affaires, the foreign ministry hopes to send a “diplomatic delegation” to Syria soon to pave the way for exchange of ambassadors.

On the other hand, Syria is not rushing to appoint a new ambassador in Amman. At this stage, it is satisfied with the Chargé D'affaires in its embassy in Jordan, especially with the increase in number of Syrian refugees returning to their native country on a daily basis.

Humanitarian organizations said some 20,000 Syrians had returned to their country after the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan in October 16, while the number of Jordanians visiting Syria increased to 70,000 by the end of November.

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Meanwhile, Jordanian officials close to the Syrian regime were told that the opportunity was available to appoint and send a Jordanian ambassador to Damascus and to appoint a Syrian ambassador to Amman, while the United States was still pressing with other powers to prevent a comprehensive normalization of relations between the two sides.

Today, as the Syrian army has expanded its control over most of Syria and restored large parts of the country that have been under the control of armed and terrorist groups for years, including areas bordering Jordan, there are signs that the two countries are normalising ties gradually.

In the past, the decision to re-establish Jordanian-Syrian relations depended on several elements: regional, international, but today the decision hinges on Jordanian and international factors.

Backed by big powers

Perhaps the most important element affecting the fate of political relations between the two countries lies in the satisfaction of international players for Jordan's convergence with the current Syrian regime.

Jordan is a country that is affected by the policies of world powers because of its reliance on foreign economic assistance from the United States, China, Japan, the European Union and the Gulf states. Thus, Amman formulates its policies based on its interests and the interests of those countries that affect Jordan's debt negatively or positively.

What the United States wants from Jordan is that Amman should not have the ability to reject Washington's requests because it is the main supporter of Jordanian economy, security and military, with some observer believing thatJordan cannot guarantee its stability without American support.

Thus, Jordan has to take all these considerations into account when it comes to foreign policy. When Amman considers political rapprochement with Syria soon, an international green light shall be given thereof.

In the end, Syrian crisis is not an internal conflict as many media outlets portray. Any decision to resume political ties with Syria has to be approved by all countries sponsoring the Syrian crisis in the presence of Russia and the United States.

This was confirmed by the statement of the Jordanian Foreign Minister a few days ago at a press conference with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura stating: “A new page must be opened in dealing with the crisis,” adding there is an unacceptable absence of the Arab role in the efforts to resolve the crisis.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.

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