US warns Gulf states against normalising ties with Syria regime, slam Assad's sham election

US warns Gulf states against normalising ties with Syria regime, slam Assad's sham election
The US State Department has branded the elections in Syria as a 'sham', while also warning Gulf allies of exposure to sanctions if they normalise ties with Damascus.
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
27 May, 2021
The Biden administration is seeking to separate itself from the policies of the previous administration [Getty]

As US President Joe Biden’s new administration continues into its fifth month, its policy on Syria has been moving slowly, as seen by its lack of a special envoy and infrequent public statements and meetings on the country. 

However, as Syria’s “sham election” comes into focus around the world, and as some Arab countries are moving toward re-establishing relationships with Damascus, it follows that America’s role would also come up for discussion. 

“Today’s so-called presidential elections in Syria have been denounced by the United States for the Assad regime’s decision to hold an election outside the framework described in UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” a State Department official told a conference call of reporters on Wednesday, following recent US government trips to Tunisia, Libya and Syria, which included meetings with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian Democratic Council, council members and tribal leaders from Raqqa, coalition military counterparts, and humanitarian workers. Resolution 2254 entails a political transition with free and fair elections and a nationwide ceasefire. 

“The elections are neither free nor fair, and we urge the international community to reject this attempt by the Assad regime to claim legitimacy without protecting the Syrian people, without respecting its obligations under international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law, and without meaningfully participating in the UN-facilitated political process to end the conflict,” the official said. 

The 2021 Syrian presidential election, held Wednesday May 26, is the second one since the conflict began in 2011. Since the outbreak of mass protests across Syria on March 15, 2011, followed by heavy-handed regime crackdowns, more than 500,000 Syrians have been killed, nearly 6.5 million have been internally displaced, and more than six million Syrian refugees are dispersed throughout the world. The unemployment rate in Syria is around 50 percent and approximately 80% of Syrians currently live in poverty.  

Nevertheless, in light of recent developments, such as nuclear talks with Iran and the beginnings of talks with Yemen, the US sees the potential for a “new dynamic” that it can “capitalise on” in the region.  

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Still, this potentially new dynamic might not extend to other parts of the region. In two instances on the call, reporters pointed out that Gulf states are re-establishing ties with Syria. 

The official suggested that America’s Gulf allies “think carefully about their exposure to sanctions in dealing with this regime.” The Caesar Act of 2019 punishes entities doing business with the Syrian government. 

He added that the focus should be “on accountability, rather than establishing diplomatic relations.”