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A man walks past a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 24, 2018 (Photo by Mikhail Voskresenskiy for Sputnik via AP).

Syria’s Assad Is Coming In From the Cold

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019

As the Syrian civil war grinds to an end, the government in Damascus, propped up by Iran and Russia, is regaining its footing, with important implications for the balance of power in the Middle East. Syria’s neighbors and powers outside the region are now attempting to determine the appropriate level of engagement, if any, to have with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While Assad’s main foreign patrons will no doubt continue to deepen their military, political and economic ties, it is countries that stood against him over the past seven years that now have the most difficult decisions to make. If recent trends are any indication, it seems many of them are increasingly leaning toward at least some sort of engagement. The question is how to do this in a face-saving manner that doesn’t weaken their diplomatic and political standing, particularly after President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw the 2,000 American troops in Syria.

Nowhere is this calculus more evident than in Turkey. After throwing its full support behind Syrian rebels, calling Assad a “coward” and vowing to “pray at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus” following his overthrow, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be moving instead toward a gradual détente with his neighbor. Turkey and Syria have been sending signals back-and-forth in a form of tacit negotiations for several months now. Speaking at a conference in December, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, declared that Ankara would work with Assad if he were to win a “democratic election” in Syria. For their part, Syrian authorities raised the prospect of re-activating the 1998 Adana Agreement—a dormant security pact between Damascus and Ankara to counter Kurdish separatists in Syria—if Ankara withdrew its forces from northern Syria and allowed the Syrian army to regain control of Idlib province, the last remaining opposition enclave. ...

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