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Britain gives up on regime change in Syria

The British foreign minister has admitted that Syria's president Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future. London seems to be considering a rapprochement. 

Published: January 5, 2019, 7:54 am

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    UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday that the Syrian head of state will be “there for a while”. The main reason for this was Russia’s continued support for Bashar al-Assad he said.

    This statement seems to mark a change in course by the British government, which had previously insisted that Assad has no legitimacy to rule.

    Hunt continued: “I think you know that it is the longstanding British position that we will not have lasting peace in Syria with this regime. But unfortunately we think he will be there for a while. And that’s because of the support he has received from Russia.

    “Russia might think that it has gained influence. What we would say to them is: Yes, and they have also taken on a responsibility.

    “If [Russia] wants to get involved in Syria, then it has to make sure that there really is peace in Syria,” the minister warned.

    It is the first time that a British minister openly speaks about the reality on the ground in Syria. Assad’s forces have been able to consolidate their positions and reconquer critical areas that have long been held by rebels and Islamist fighters.

    These insurgent militia structures have been supported, inter alia, by the UK itself since 2011.

    According to Al Masdar, a government-led Syrian news site , the evidence that London is seriously considering relaunching relations with Damascus, has been the rebuilding of the British Embassy in the Syrian capital.

    This would allow the UK government to join a number of Arab Gulf states, led by the United Arab Emirates, which have already begun to re-open their embassies and establish diplomatic relations.

    Meanwhile, the European Union intervened, as Brexit negotiations with London continue. The EU called on Egypt , which also wants to normalize its relations with Assad, not to play any role in bringing Syria back into the Arab League. The EU specifically drafted an opinion on its rejection of reintegrating Syria into the Arab world .

    Syria’s state news agency SANA previously reported that the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk, visited Cairo on December 22 at the invitation of the Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. The intelligence chiefs met to discuss common political and security concerns.

    Hunt has thus not only diverged from the political line of his predecessor Boris Johnson, but also from the course set by the European Union. Boris Johnson said a year ago that President Assad should only be re-elected if a peace settlement cis reached.

    At present, London fears a so-called hard Brexit with Brussels. This could lead to the creation of an EU external border in Northern Ireland. The British government is expecting riots and has trained specifically at least a thousand police officers for the coming unrest.

    Syrian diplomats were expelled from London and many other Western capitals in 2012 when first clashes broke out in Syrian cities.

    After Moscow’s military intervention in 2015, the Syrian president managed to regain control of most of Syria, thanks largely to Russia’s air support and intensive Iranian ground support.

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