Assad’s absence from climate summit reflects retreat of “normalization bets”

President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in Moscow - March 15, 2023 (Reuters)

President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in Moscow - March 15, 2023 (Reuters)


Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab

Syrian regime’s president Bashar al-Assad was absent from the COP28 Climate Summit in Expo City Dubai, United Arab Emirates, without officially announcing the reason for his non-participation in the summit, which was attended by more than 100 world leaders.

Despite receiving an invitation from the UAE on May 15, Assad’s absence, according to the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is attributed to his fear of traveling to the UAE.

The newspaper also stated on November 28 that Assad’s absence is related to the fact that French authorities issued arrest warrants against him, and there is a valid agreement between Paris and Abu Dhabi for the extradition of criminals. Assad’s participation in the summit would challenge Abu Dhabi’s commitment to such arrangements.

Low-impact normalization

Political relations researcher Bilal Salaymeh explained to Enab Baladi that Assad’s absence, whether for legal reasons related to the arrest warrants or for political reasons, indicates the limited impact of Arab normalization with the regime and its rehabilitation efforts in recent months.

The Emirati invitation to al-Assad to attend the climate summit was the first international conference to which the president of the regime has been invited since 2011.

A delegation from the Syrian regime government, headed by Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, participated in the climate summit after arriving in the UAE on November 30, accompanied by Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf, Deputy Foreign Minister Bassam Sabbagh, and Assistant Minister of Water Resources for Water Strategy Affairs Jihad Kanan.

Researcher in international relations Mahmoud Alloush explained to Enab Baladi that there are no clear reasons announced regarding Assad’s absence from the climate summit, adding that al-Assad would not miss such an opportunity to participate in the conference among world leaders in order to reestablish himself on the international stage, even on a personal level.

Instead of attending as a political victory for normalization policy, Reuters quoted the head of the Natural Resources Department at the Ministry of Agriculture in the regime’s government, Manhal al-Zoubi, who is part of the delegation, as saying that the Syrian delegation will focus on “mobilizing funding for climate projects in Syria” during their participation in the summit.

He added, “Our main goal is to attract projects and funding to implement important climate adaptation activities in Syria.”

International community not ready

Apart from the reasons that prevented al-Assad from attending, the international community is still not fully ready to open up to al-Assad and restore relations with him. Although some countries have recently restored their relations with al-Assad, influential countries in Syrian policies such as the United States and European countries refuse to resume relations with al-Assad without a political solution to the Syrian conflict, according to international relations researcher Mahmoud Alloush.

On the Arab level, Alloush believes that despite the recent developments in Syrian-Arab relations, there is now a state of stagnation in this path.

Alloush added that the stagnation that occurred in relations between the regime and Arab countries is mainly due to the fact that Arab expectations were intended to lead the new relations with al-Assad to achieve the Arab interests in Syria, either by reducing the Iranian influence and addressing security concerns such as drug trafficking or by pushing the political settlement process. However, these were unrealistic bets.

The regime is still unwilling and incapable of fulfilling these Arab requirements, so these relations have reached a stage of stagnation in recent times, and any progress in this path depends on what al-Assad can offer to Arab countries, which he is unable to do, according to Alloush.


Although the Syrian regime has succeeded in breaking its regional and international isolation to some extent, it still faces a major obstacle in the path of rapprochement.

Mahmoud Alloush – Researcher in international relations.


Alloush believes that there is a significant part of the Arab and international community that sees al-Assad as incapable of meeting Arab and international expectations regarding the future of the conflict in Syria.

French arrest warrants

The American Coalition for Syria (ACS) called on France on November 28 to request the extradition of Bashar al-Assad in the event of his attendance at the climate summit and asked it to temporarily direct the arrest request to the UAE and cooperate with France’s request.

The French judiciary had issued arrest warrants against Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher, and two of his aides on November 15 on charges of using prohibited chemical weapons against civilians in the city of Douma and Eastern Ghouta in Damascus in 2013, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people.

In a previous interview with Enab Baladi, Ibrahim Olabi, head of the Syrian Legal Development Program (SLDP), said that the arrest warrants may complicate Assad’s attendance at the Global Climate Action Summit.

He added that if the UAE wants to comply with the legal requirements, it should prevent al-Assad from attending or arrest him if he does attend.

The UAE’s invitation to Bashar al-Assad has faced numerous Syrian and international criticisms, as Syrian activists called for the cancellation of the invitation, considering that his attendance helps in rehabilitating the regime despite decades of atrocities and human rights violations.

US Republican senator Jim Risch stated that “the world is watching whether Assad will attend the climate summit in the UAE after the war crimes he committed and the French warrant for his arrest,” emphasizing that “instead of issuing invitations, everyone should continue to isolate this killer and hold him accountable for his atrocities.”

The United Arab Emirates is hosting the COP28 conference from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

More than 70,000 people are expected to participate in the conference, including heads of state, government officials, international industry leaders, representatives of the private sector, academic people, experts, youth, civil society, indigenous peoples, and non-governmental organizations.

According to the Paris Climate Agreement, the COP28 conference will witness the first global assessment of progress in implementing the agreement’s goals.

The conference presidency seeks to provide a comprehensive and decisive response to the outcome that contributes to redirecting the world towards the right path of climate action.



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