Jordan moves in Syria: Enthusiasm met with regime’s coolness

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi during his meeting with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus - February 15, 2023 (Syrian Presidency)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi during his meeting with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus - February 15, 2023 (Syrian Presidency)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

The agenda of the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, in July included three foreign visits to Syria, Turkey, and Qatar, where the Syrian file was the passcode and the common denominator between the regional moves for Amman, which is leading an “Initiative” for a solution in Syria.

The Amman Initiative is paralleled by a division in the political tracks related to the file, between stumbling and disruption, and without any translation of the Jordanian endeavors on the ground, as the discussions, understandings, and meetings in this regard did not go beyond their statements until the present time at least.

Safadi’s visits began from Damascus on July 3, during which he met his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, and the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, the visit included discussions about efforts to solve the “Syrian crisis” and a number of bilateral issues.

Al-Assad met the minister, who embodied in numbers during the seventh Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” on June 15, “the weight of the refugee file” on Jordan and the basic services it provides to the Syrians that it does not guarantee its continuity. The meeting included indirect conditions by al-Assad for the return of the refugees, as he linked the issue of return to the deteriorating conditions in his areas of control.

At the time, the state-run news agency (SANA) reported that al-Assad stressed the priority of voluntary return, with the necessity of securing the infrastructure for this return and the requirements of reconstruction and rehabilitation in all its forms, and supporting it with early recovery projects that enable the returnees to restore their normal life cycle.

About 1.3 million Syrian refugees have resided in Jordan since the outbreak of the revolution in Syria in March 2011, of whom 661,854 are refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to Jordanian figures.

Al-Safadi’s second visit to Damascus (the first on Feb.15, after the earthquake) was accompanied and followed by what suggests its weak usefulness, as it was preceded, on June 25, by publishing the details of the “Jordanian initiative” through the Saudi magazine, “Al-Majalla.”

The initiative carried items and issues that intersected to a large extent with the final statement of the Amman consultative meeting on May 1 (before al-Assad’s participation in the Jeddah summit).

Contrary to Amman’s endeavors for a solution that is consistent with “the core of its desire to return the refugees,” many of the issues agreed upon in statements and on paper, and supported by the Arabs, take a reverse turn, given the behavior of the regime on the ground.

The regime tended to dedicate some conditions under the name of “appropriate conditions” for the return of refugees, and this was evident when the Syrian Foreign Minister asked, during his participation in the meeting of foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement countries, on July 5, to advance the economy and achieve an early recovery in the economy in the regime-controlled areas, thus contributing to the provision of vital services necessary for a dignified return of refugees and displaced persons to their areas of origin.

On May 14, during the participation in the preparatory meetings for the Arab Summit, Rania Ahmed, Assistant Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade for International Affairs, stressed that the return of the displaced to their cities and homes comes through encouraging the establishment of economic projects in various sectors.

Charles Lister, senior fellow and MEI-Syria director at the Middle East Institute, said “The process of Arab engagement with Assad and his regime might prove awkward, given the continuation of killings, arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, the escalation of violence, the looting of citizens’ property and real estate, and the targeting of civilians, all of which the ‘Jordanian Initiative’ forbids, by speaking on the environment conducive to the return of refugees.”

Lister said, on Twitter (or X), that “Jordan’s plan to involve the regime (in the political process) is no longer promising.”

Captagon, Conflicting messages

By mentioning the drug file in the statement of the Amman Consultative Meeting, and the Arab Ministerial Meeting in Jeddah, on April 14 and in continuous statements by officials of neighboring countries, leading to talk about a Saudi offer to the regime, the content of which is compensating for the loss of the Captagon trade in the event of its cessation, this file imposes importance and priority at the same time, it explains Amman’s move towards holding a meeting with the regime through the Joint Jordanian-Syrian Committee, the first meeting of its kind, on July 23, to discuss combating drug smuggling across the Syrian border into Jordan.

The results of this meeting came quickly when the Jordanian forces announced, on July 24, that they had shot down a drone loaded with Captagon from Syria.

These moves in the file were preceded by appeals made by the Jordanian Foreign Minister on July 7, when he called for a joint international effort to confront this danger, stressing that resolving the issue cannot take place without real international cooperation, which suggests diminishing hopes for tangible results in this context, through negotiations with al-Assad.

Safadi to Ankara

After his visit to Syria, Safadi headed to Turkey the next day, where he met his counterpart, Hakan Fidan, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on July 4.

During a joint press conference held by the two ministers after a session of bilateral talks, Safadi explained that the two sides extensively discussed the efforts exerted to reach a political solution to the “Syrian crisis.” He said, “We agree on the need to work intensively to solve the Syrian crisis and to address all its security, political and humanitarian consequences.”

“As two of the largest countries hosting Syrian refugees, we are concerned with achieving progress in the asylum file, and we agree that the future of Syrian refugees is in their country,” Safadi added, repeating the same point during his meeting with his British counterpart, James Cleverly, on July 27, stressing the need to provide conditions that allow refugees to “voluntarily return” to their country.

Turkey and Jordan participate in hosting millions of Syrian refugees and in the efforts of the two countries to promote the “voluntary return” of these refugees, with a fundamental difference in the mechanism, as Ankara is implementing its project in cooperation with Qatar by providing shelter for about a million Syrians targeted by the project, in isolation from the regime, while Amman relies on the Syrian regime to translate its ambitions to return refugees.

In Doha, two weeks later

Ayman Safadi’s visit to Qatar came exactly two weeks after his visit to Damascus, when he met, on July 17, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, in Doha.

The meeting was preceded by discussions between Safadi and his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, about the Arab role in efforts to reach a political solution to the “Syrian file,” in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, according to a statement by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

The two ministers also stressed the necessity of implementing the “Amman” statement, and taking concrete and practical steps to end the “crisis” and address its humanitarian and political consequences, the suffering it caused to the Syrian people, and the threats it produced to the security of the region, including drug smuggling.

Despite Jordan’s tendency to win supporters for the “Initiative” and inform the concerned countries of the related developments, the visit to Qatar and Turkey carries an additional dimension, given that Doha was not present during the Amman Consultative Meeting, and does not welcome the return of the Syrian regime to the Arab League.

It also maintains a firm position on the Syrian file, translated by the statements of its foreign minister when he said, on July 8, “The problem is with the regime that has been displacing and bombing people for more than ten years, and this is the basis of the problem.”

On May 17, the Qatari minister said, “The only solution to normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, at least for us, is to find a just and comprehensive solution to the issue in Syria.”

As for Turkey, in addition to its absence from the “Jordanian Initiative” and the meetings that took place in its orbit, it was present in the Syrian file through more than one gate, with its hosting of more than three million refugees and military presence in the north that the Initiative deals with within its provisions.

In addition to Turkey’s cooperation with Qatar in the “voluntary return” project, the deep state of alliance and harmony of positions between them, and the recent era of Ankara in moving towards the official normalization of relations with Damascus, after about 12 years of hostility, followed by saddled steps colliding with what is impossible for Ankara, and what are the “national constants” of the regime, namely, the Turkish withdrawal from northern Syria.

Possibilities for advancement are limited

Dr. Omar Basha al-Raddad, the Jordanian expert in strategic security, explained to Enab Baladi that the Jordanian move in the Syrian file is linked to stakes based on the Jordanian peculiarity in dealing with Syria in connection with its geographical proximity and the refugees’ issue.

In addition to economic issues related to the flow of goods in both directions, which explains Amman’s moves, starting with the Jordanian King Abdullah II’s presentation to the US administration of the issue of excluding Jordan from “Caesar” sanctions at an earlier time.

The expert believes that the summary of the Jordanian and Arab efforts in the Syrian file indicates that the prospects for progress appear to be very limited, given the continuation of drug smuggling and the Syrian regime’s connection with Iran, the reluctance to move forward towards a political solution, and the failure to actually take concrete measures regarding the return of refugees.

It is natural that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Arab countries have a number of facts that constitute irrefutable evidence that the intentions of the Syrian regime were not at the level of its commitments, which means the possibility of discussing these issues with the regime, according to al-Raddad.

“Grim reality”

According to an opinion article published by the Saudi newspaper Okaz, on July 28, by political analyst Rami al-Khalifa al-Ali, the basis for the solution that Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi advocates is UN Resolution 2254.

There must be a framework that allows for the formation of a vision for a solution that is acceptable to the international community.

However, the government of the Syrian regime has not expressly and clearly agreed on the horizon of the proposed Arab solution, which prompted the international community to doubt the possibility of the Arab countries succeeding in convincing the regime of this inclusive framework, according to al-Ali.

The analyst referred to issues related to the “Syrian crisis,” including drugs, the diversified military presence, sovereignty over the land, and trust-building issues (the release of detainees, the return of the displaced, and the refugees).

Al-Ali said, “Saudi Arabia, like the Arab countries that drew a horizon for resolving the Syrian crisis, made tremendous efforts and worked to convince the international community of this solution… but if you do not help yourself, no one can help you.”



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