US neither confirms nor denies regular meetings with Syria’s Assad

US neither confirms nor denies regular meetings with Syria’s Assad
The US has refused to comment on whether they have conducted private discussions with the Syrian dictator- which some argue signal a change in US-Syria ties
3 min read
25 April, 2024
Syria, Krak des Chevaliers, Bashar al-Assad photo. (Photo by: Giovanni Mereghetti/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The US has neither confirmed nor denied whether its officials have been in discussions with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad after claims made by the dictator in a televised interiview. 

The response came after Assad, who is sanctioned by Washington, said in an interview with pro-Russian media that his officials held meetings with US counterparts "from time to time" with Washington, as it seeks openings after over a decade of international isolation. 

Assad did not give further details about who was involved in the meetings or what was discussed. 

"America is currently illegally occupying part of our lands... but we meet with them from time to time, although these meetings do not lead to anything," Assad said in an interview with a Russian-backed official from Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, published by Syria's official Sana news agency. 

"There is always hope: even when we know there will be no results we must try," he said when asked about the possibility of mending ties with the West. 

The US State Department told The New Arab that it will not comment on "private diplomatic discussions" however emphasised its longstanding approach toward the Syrian regime. 

"The Administration’s position remains clear:  We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent authentic progress towards a lasting political solution to the underlying conflict," a spokesperson for the State Department told The New Arab

"We continue to make this clear publicly and privately with our partners, including those engaged with the regime."

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The statement continued: "We believe a political solution as outlined in UNSCR 2254 remains the only viable solution to the Syrian conflict and are working with our allies, likeminded partners, and the UN to implement UNSCR 2254."

The United States was among the first countries to cut ties with Assad over the repression of anti-government protests that sparked war in 2011. Following the brutal crackdown on protesters, many Western and Arab states also severed relations with Damascus. 

However last year Syria returned to the Arab fold, seeking better ties with wealthy US-allied Gulf states, in the hope they can help fund reconstruction, although Western sanctions are likely to deter investment. 

After war broke out, the US imposed a slew of sanctions on Syria, which had already been a pariah state in the West under Assad's father Hafez. 

In 2020, a US law known as the Caesar Act came into force that punishes any companies that work with Assad. 

The Caesar Act, accompanied by a slew of US sanctions on Syrians close to Assad, aimed to force accountability for human rights abuses and to encourage a political solution. 

Washington is also at odds with Damascus over US backing for northeast Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish authorities, which have spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State group with support from a US-led international coalition. 

Damascus accuses Kurdish authorities, which control most of the country's major oilfields, of separatism. 

In 2022, US President Joe Biden had accused Syria of holding American journalist Austin Tice, abducted more than a decade ago in Damascus, and called on the Syrian regime's help to help secure his release. 

The Syrian foreign ministry denied holding Americans, including Tice. 

AFP also contributed to this piece.