Will Jordan Normalize Relations with Syria?
Many countries are courting the Syrian government now that the civil war seems almost over.
The behind-the-scene actions to settle the Syrian conflict are beginning to emerge in the open. The course of the crisis appears to be shifting not only between the Syrian government, but also with other countries in Europe toward a resolution. There are expectations that the Syrian crisis will be over by year’s end and that the reconstruction process of the war-torn country will start shortly after mid-December 2017.
Many Syrian activists see that the end of the war is near too. Many countries are courting the Syrian government now that the civil war is almost over. After the Jordanian, French and British statements regarding the rapprochement with Damascus, many regional states, including Saudi Arabia, are rethinking their next steps to deal with the status quo in Syria, coming to the realization that they will have to cope with the presence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at least for the near future.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani confirmed on Jordanian TV on August 25 that the Hashemite Kingdom’s relations with the Syrian government “are heading in the right direction,” and he expressed hope that the border between the two countries will be reopened in the near future. “Our relations with the Syrian state and regime are going in the right direction,” he said, stressing that “to open the borders, there should be stability in southern Syria across the border from Jordan.”
Needless to say, Jordan is playing a crucial role in maintaining the truce in southwestern Syria, in cooperation with the Americans and Russians. However, Jordan is keeping a watchful eye on the continuing ceasefire and the commitment of all the warring parties to that deal. This position was reiterated by the Jordanian government spokesperson when he said, “If the current situation continues and southern Syria stabilizes, it would allow for the reopening of the crossing points between the two states.” This statement comes following a ceasefire brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan in the southern Syrian provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Suweida, which have largely been held by the Syrian government as per the de-escalation zones agreement that entered into force on July 7.
Spirit of Agreement
The Syrian government and other armed opposition groups in southern parts of Syria, including the Free Syrian Army and the Tribal Army, have been committed to the spirit of the agreement, and this has helped stabilize the southern region bordering Jordan. The kingdom shares a border of more than 385 kilometers with Syria and is one of few Arab states that refused to cut its diplomatic ties with Syria or to close the Syrian Embassy in Amman due to “the special and unique ties between the people of both countries.”
Politicians in Jordan believe that Jordanians themselves are fed up with the Syrian crisis, with the international community finally reaching a point where it sees the need to solve this conflict that has resulted in the deaths of more than 400,000 people. Jordan has been trying for the past three years to solve the Syrian conflict in various ways. Momani’s statement is a wake-up call to all concerned parties in Syria — both the government and the opposition — and those regional and international players that the war is over. According to Momani, “When we talk about stability and positive relations between us and the Syrian state and the Syrian regime, all parties concerned should receive this important message.”
The positive signal stems from the optimism in Jordanian society about the future development of Jordanian-Syrian relations in the near future. With the plummeting number of Syrian refugees in Jordan since the truce in southern Syria began, the fact that refugees are beginning to return to Syria is an extremely positive development.
Some observers read Momani’s comments as a reaction to the words of Assad’s political and media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban. Shaaban argued that the six-year-long insurgency in Syria was nearly over as foreign states cut their backing for takfiri (infidel) terrorist groups, vowing that government troops would fight against any “illegitimate” forces, whether Turkish or American. Speaking in an exclusive interview with al-Mayadeen, a Lebanon-based TV news network, on the sideline of the inauguration of the Damascus International Fair, Shaaban said that the event is proof that stability in Syria is back.The Syrian government believes that the war has reached its “penultimate stage” as foreign powers that backed militant outfits are changing their policies. Shaaban described Jordanian-Syrian relations as unique and special, with the reopening of crossing points between the two countries for trade and passengers.
Erdogan’s Visit to Jordan
Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan’s visit to Amman on August 21 dispelled Jordanian fears from the presence of Iranian and Shia militias near Jordan’s northern borders. In the wake of the Turkish-Iranian rapprochement with the Iranian chief of staff’s visit to Ankara, Erdogan conveyed Tehran’s message to Jordan, stating that Iran was ready to withdraw from southern Syria in exchange for Jordanian guarantees to form local administration bodies that are not controlled by armed groups.
The coming days are spelling out a new relationship between Jordan and Syria. The first step is to pave the way and to prepare public opinion in both countries for the naturalization of ties and the reopening of crossing points to resume commercial activities and to facilitate passenger movement.
On August 25, the opposition and the Syrian government held separate meetings to prepare for the reopening of the Nasib border crossing. Importantly, opposition factions, including the Free Syrian Army, the Revolutionary Army and the Shabab al-Sunna group, discussed the task of protecting upcoming convoys between the two countries. This area includes the town of Khirbet Ghazala in the countryside of Daraa up to where it reaches the Nasib customs point, and from there to the international highway between Daraa and Damascus.
This unusual and positive meeting was held at the White Rose Hotel in Daraa, which included a number of Russian military officers, officers of the Syrian government and some former employees from Nasib to discuss rebuilding the border point from the Syrian side with the help of the Russians, who are relocating their staff to the critical crossing point.
According to UN statistics, more than 600,000 Syrian refugees have returned to their country since the beginning of 2017, with 50% of them headed to Aleppo. Others will follow once Jordanian-Syrian borders reopen, allowing more than 1 million to go back to Syria in a reverse exodus.
Overall, Jordanians are waiting for the next step from Syria to further normalize ties in various fields, including security, politics and economics, along with the return of the Syrian ambassador to Amman. This reality is shimmering on the horizon the moment the borders reopen. Coupled with the opening of the Iraqi-Jordanian crossing point, Jordan will secure economic and trade activities with Syria that will revive the Jordanian market and boost its revenues during these delicate times.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.