"Step for Step": Chances of Success for the Amman Consultative Meeting
Position Assessment | On May 1st, 2023, the foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria convened in Amman for the pentapartite Consultative Meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to establish a roadmap for Syria's reintegration into the Arab world. This position assessment offers an analysis of the Amman Consultative Meeting, evaluating its chances of success in achieving this goal.
by Hazem Salem Dmour
- Release Date – May 2, 2023
The pentapartite Consultative Meeting, initiated by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Amman, was concluded on the first of May 2023, with the participation of the foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, a meeting came as a continuation of the Consultative Meeting hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on April 14, 2023, in order to carry on the openness by some Arab countries to Damascus. This Meeting also comes in the context of the proposals of the Jordanian initiative to reach a "political solution to the Syrian crisis," as stated in a statement by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The pentapartite Consultative Meeting is the Arab base to draw a roadmap for Syria's return to its Arab depth, it the Meeting was held after a series of unilateral and gradual Arab steps for rapprochement with the Syrian government, the latest of which was the visit of the Syrian Foreign Minister to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister to Syria in April 2023. The pentapartite Meeting also comes a few weeks before the Arab summit scheduled in Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2023. This makes the Meeting be an occasion that carries many indications and implications concerning the future of Arab-Syrian relations, and also concerning the associated policies and trends, especially as the final status frameworks is complicated, due to the intertwining of Syrian-non-Arab relations, specifically with Iran.
Interpreting The Contents of The Final Statement
Unlike similar meetings, the final statement of the Meeting was detailed and thorough, closer to be a clear roadmap that determines the basic commitments of the Meeting's parties, also determining the frameworks through which the Arab countries are seeking to bring Damascus back to the Arab depth. This is through the statement's emphasis on the Arab role in resolving the Syrian crisis, especially in light of Jordan's proposal for an Arab initiative based on a political solution in Syria, in accordance with international references, especially the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. It seems that the Meeting parties may seek later to internationalize their close positions with Damascus.
All of that is added to referring to cooperation with the government in Damascus in the fields of security and counter-terrorism, the matter that means developing an Arab policy that contributes to support Damascus, in order for Damascus to extend its sovereignty over the territories controlled by armed groups. It also means that such efforts are taking a role crowding out other non-Arab forces' roles in Syria, which, over the past years, claimed that their presence in Syria was for the intention of supporting the Syrian government in its military operations against armed groups.
In return for the emphasized Arab's role regarding the two previous points, Damascus has several obligations to undertake, including taking serious steps to combat manufacturing narcotics within its territories, and stop smuggling narcotics across its borders with neighboring countries, especially Jordan and Iraq. To that end, Joint political and security working groups, comprising individuals from Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, will be formed to identify the sources of narcotics production and smuggling inside Syria, and what entities that organize, manage, and carry out smuggling narcotics across the Syrian borders with Jordan and Iraq, in addition to take the necessary steps to end such operations.
The Syrian government must also show the seriousness and bona fide intentions of its steps to comply with Arab demands, as seen in the news circulating from inside Syria regarding issuing a general amnesty, and in the Syrian government's decision to open the Bab al-Salama crossing for humanitarian and medical aid, following the devastating earthquake in February 2023, in addition to weighting the level of Syrian cooperation with the technical teams that are intended be formed as one of the outputs of the Consultative Meeting outputs, in order to follow up on the outcomes of the Meeting and determine the next steps.
Important Conclusions in the Syrian Arab Roadmap
through what we said, some of Syrian Arab policies to be followed can be concluded as follows:
1- The Arab countries, through their emphasis on international references, are seeking that their steps would not contradict with the orientations of the United States. According to the Arab initiative and the Syrian Arab meetings, the final results will lead to the same result sought by the international community, via finding a political solution that ends the crisis in Syria. The final statement of the Meeting also made no mention of economic partnerships or reconstruction processes, so that the Arab steps may not contradict the U.S. Caesar Act.
2- Forming a Jordanian-Syrian-Iraqi committee to combat the manufacturing and smuggling narcotics, as well as determining such committee's tasks and objectives; somehow in line with what is stated in the U.S. law regarding combating manufacturing Captagon inside Syria. The success of this committee, in taking serious steps to prevent the production and smuggling of narcotics, may open the way for U.S cooperation with the committee through the Jordanian role, as Jordan strong relations with all parties.
3- The outcomes of the final Meeting are seeking to prepare Syria, at the security and political levels, to enhance the appropriate conditions for the refugees to return, through extending the Syrian government sovereignty over its territories, rationalization its policies, and the enforcement of law and order.
4- The new Arab role towards Syria, in the aspects of combating narcotics smuggling and in supporting a political solution, is intended to make other non-Arab parties in Syria lose their political and security leverages, and thus crowd out non-Arab role, replacing it with the Arab one.
5- The final statement focused on partial solutions instead of focusing on macro solutions, perhaps because the Arab countries realize the difficulty of reaching a political solution at the time being, a difficulty that can be overcome by resolving partial issues related to the settlement, including combating terrorism, restoring Syrian sovereignty over the territories controlled by armed groups, as well as preparing Syria for the return of refugees.
6- The working committees, and following-up of the implementation of the outputs, indicate that this Consultative Meeting will be followed by similar upcoming meetings. It seems that they are working separately on the issue of Syria's return to its seat at the Arab League, which is opposed by some Arab countries.
Parallel Regional and International Challenges
In contrast to the Arab efforts to bring Syria back to its Arab depth, and also in contrast to the Arab policies aimed at resolving the crisis that has been ongoing since 2011, through gradual steps and partial goals, we find that there are other non-Arab policies that may limit or hinder the efforts led by a group of Arab countries.
First: There are parallel Iranian efforts, which can be interpreted as anticipatory attempts to prevent its relations with Syria from being affected in any Arab effort against Iran, in order to preserve Iran's strategic interests in Syria. In this context, it is possible to consider two important events, the first of which is the multiple meetings of the Syrian-Iranian Joint Economic Committee in Damascus on April 26, 2023, in which it was agreed to develop cooperation between the two countries in the fields of energy, electricity, petroleum, tourism, transport, culture, insurance, banking, and customs. The said cooperation included assisting the Syrian fleet, providing manpower, and inaugurating the port of Hamidiya, in exchange for Iran's renewal of its request for 5,000 hectares of Syrian agricultural land, in order to conduct agricultural experiments. While the second is the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Syria on May 3, 2023 accompanied with a "large political and economic delegation", as stated by the official Iranian News Agency (IRNA), a visit that is "very important, given the changes and developments taking place in the region" as indicated by the IRNA. This visit is the first of its kind by an Iranian president to visit Damascus since 2011, and was preceded by a visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in May 2022. The Iranian president's visit was expected to result in the signing of joint agreements in the fields of energy and electricity, specifically on the new Iranian credit line that is being invested in the electricity sector.
Second: Russian political interests are an influential factor in Syria. The Russian general principles are compatible with the Arab effort in terms of preserving the unity of Syria, and the extension of the Syrian government's sovereignty over all territories. Russia supported the Arab rapprochement with Damascus for years, but the Russian preoccupation with the Ukrainian crisis, which was reflected on Syria in its strategic considerations, made the Arab rapprochement be in a lack to an important international dimension that supports Arab orientations.
Third: Western countries, especially the United States and the European Union, are intransigent in their position towards the solution in Syria, insisting on proceeding with the final solution prior to approve any political understandings or lifting the economic sanctions on Syria. While, the Arab diplomacy towards Damascus was active, after the devastating earthquake in February 2023, Western countries continued to tighten sanctions on Syria, the latest of which was new sanctions imposed by the European Union on 25 individuals, and eight entities on charges related to smuggling narcotics, as well as issues related to human rights.
Fourth: There are signs of establishing a "Quadripartite Framework" that includes Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Russia, which in turn will be followed by a set of commitments and demands, which may contradict or oppose the outcomes of the pentapartite Consultative Meeting, as each country in the Quartet Framework has its own demands, strategies, and agenda, while the concerned Arab countries proposed solutions to the entire Syrian territories, including the issue of refugees, and also other files related to the final solution frameworks.
However, what distinguishes the current Arab steps is that they are not replacing a role with another, which means that the Arab countries are adopting gradual policies based on realistic steps and partial achievable goals, not aiming to provoke the anger of the concerned countries and parties, whether Iranian, Russian, the West. The Arab approach can be deemed as an alternative to relying on Western demands to reach a final solution to the Syrian crisis, rather, the Arab steps took steps for rapprochement and openness, which, over for a decade of the crisis, were difficult to be implemented, as they required many tools, ignoring the diplomatic dimension in their aspects.
Finally, the Amman Consultative Meeting can be seen as a base for forming a "Pentapartite Framework", seeking to establish an Arab working group, in order to implement a gradual strategy for a solution in Syria, and to rehabilitate the country to return it to the Arab League firstly, and then the international community, in accordance to a set of commitments and demands or "step for step". Therefore, it is likely that the coming days will witness a series of similar meetings. This is confirmed by a Saudi official in a statement to the Financial Times: "Opening the channel of discussion with Syria does not mean that things have been settled, but without this channel, we cannot negotiate what we want".
At the very least, it can be said that the recent Arab moves contributed in breaking the isolation of Syria. The debate now is about what Damascus is demanded to implement in exchange for a return to the Arab fold and the international community, instead of rejecting the entire idea and associating it to the inability to rehabilitate the Syrian regime. At the same time, the positions of some Arab countries, such as Kuwait and Qatar, which oppose reconciliation with Syria, cannot be overlooked, as they will constitute a weight that may hinder the efforts of the Pentapartite Meeting.
Hazem Salem Dmour
General Manager / Specialized Researcher in International Relations and Strategic Studies