The government of Qatar sees no reason to reopen its embassy in Damascus, nor any encouraging signs for a normalisation of ties with the Syrian government, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has insisted.
Speaking at a press conference this morning, the minister slammed the suggestion that Qatar would mend relations with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whom he affirmed was “involved in war crimes”. He also addressed the issue of Syria returning to the Arab League, arguing that Qatar would continue to stand by its expulsion from the 22-member regional bloc.
“Since day one Qatar had reasons for which it supported the suspension of [Syria’s Arab League] membership and those reasons are still there,” he concluded, “so we do not see any encouraging factor.”
The strong statements from Doha come as other Arab states, including some that once backed opposition groups against the Syrian regime, are speeding up their reconciliation efforts with Al-Assad following decisive gains made by government and allied forces in the war last year.
In December, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, marking a significant diplomatic boost for the regime, with Bahrain confirming subsequently that its embassy and the Syrian diplomatic mission in Manama were also operational. More Arab countries are expected to follow suit, with rumours that Saudi Arabia will also be reopening its embassy in the Syrian capital later this week.
The return of diplomatic envoys has been welcomed by the Syrian government, but officials in Damascus claimed this week that they would not be pleading for Western countries to make such moves. “Whoever closed their embassy in Damascus… and wants to change the decision based on another approach to the terrorism that hit Syria, we welcome this,” explained Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan, “but we do not seek the return of anyone.”
According to the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, though, the Syrian regime has recently suspended the residency permits of numerous foreign diplomats currently based in Beirut, in what is perceived as an attempt to pressure envoys to return to Syria and officially reopen their embassies. Whilst diplomats previously commuted to Syria from Lebanon once or twice a month since the outbreak of the war to conduct their business, the latest move is a sign that such half-hearted diplomatic representation is no longer welcome to the Damascus regime.
The Syrian stance appears to be having an effect already. Last week, Italy, an alleged victim of the move, announced that it would consider returning its embassy to Syria and affirmed the importance of relations returning to normal.
There have also been calls for Syria to return to the Arab League, with Algeria and Jordan joining Iraq and Lebanon in inviting President Al-Assad to attend the summit scheduled to take place in March, eight years after Syria was suspended. The meeting, set to take place in Tunisia, would see the Assad government welcomed back officially into the fold.
The war in Syria has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces. The Assad government has used chemical weapons against civilians on scores of occasions, with tens of thousands in prison facing torture and execution. Despite the regime calling for refugees to return to the country, over one million people are still listed as wanted on government databases. Syrians who supported the opposition have genuine fears about state reprisals against them and their families.