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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Biden Administration versus Syria’s Bashar Assad

Filed under: Russia, Syria, U.S. Policy

The Biden Administration versus Syria’s Bashar Assad
Vladimir Putin visited the command post of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, with the President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in 2020. (The Kremlin)

The Biden administration continues the Trump administration’s tough policy regarding Syria and insists on major reforms under the supervision of the United Nations and a political settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

The U.S. Secretary of State joined with colleagues from the UK, France, Germany, and Italy on March 15, 2021, to issue a statement holding President Assad and his backers responsible for the years of war, appalling violence, and human suffering.1

President Putin is working to bring Syria back into the Arab world (umma) to legitimize Bashar al-Assad as president.

On March 20, 2021, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Oman to try to ease Syria’s return to the Arab world via the Gulf States. Oman has played a traditional role as a regional go-between and has good relations with Iran as well.

The Syrian move is coordinated with Russia – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently visited several Gulf States to find a way for Syria’s return to the Arab League. The efforts are intended to prepare for a presidential election in Syria in three months. President Putin wants to make the villain “kosher” and arrange for President Bashar Assad another seven-year term as president, even though it has been ten years since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, during which the Syrian president committed horrific war crimes against his own citizens.

According to Russian media reports, only 31 percent of Syrian citizens are expected to vote for Bashar Assad’s continued tenure. It is difficult to see the presidential elections taking place on time in light of the opposition of the United States and European countries and because of the coronavirus crisis in Syria and the Assad regime’s economic deterioration.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, casting their votes in parliamentary elections in July 2020
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, casting their votes in parliamentary elections in July 2020 (SANA News Agency)

Background to Western Opposition

In the war, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, tens of thousands of others arrested and tortured, as millions of refugees fled and were displaced from their homes.

The Biden administration is cautious and monitoring events in Syria, especially given President Biden and President Putin’s tense relations and new attacks by Syrian forces on civilians on March 21.

As the new U.S. administration is beginning to unveil its policy toward Syria, Washington is setting conditions for recognition of the presidential election in Syria in light of Russia and Iran’s intention to re-elect Bashar Assad as President of Syria.

Secretary Blinken and his European Colleagues Slam Assad

Marking the 10th anniversary of the war in Syria, Western foreign ministers were adamant about expressing Basher Assad’s role in the conflagration and the attempt to hold elections.2

Impunity is unacceptable, and we will firmly continue to press for accountability for the most serious crimes. We will continue to support the important role of the Commission of Inquiry and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism. We welcome the ongoing efforts by national courts to investigate and prosecute crimes within their jurisdiction committed in Syria. We will not tolerate Syria’s non-compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention…

The proposed Syrian Presidential election this year will neither be free nor fair, nor should it lead to any measure of international normalization with the Syrian regime. Any political process needs the participation of all Syrians, including the diaspora and the displaced, to enable all voices to be heard.

The position of the new U.S. administration is that the only way forward for a political settlement in Syria is in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, which was passed on December 18, 2015, and established a “roadmap” for ending the Syrian civil war and finding a political settlement.

In the House of Representatives, members introduced new legislation on March 19, 2021, the “Iran Human Rights and Accountability Act of 2021,” which “requires a determination whether Iran and its militias [Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq] committed crimes against humanity.”

Russia’s Efforts on Assad’s Behalf

According to Gulf, Saudi, and Qatar officials who rejected requests from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia is the main force supporting Bashar Assad as President of Syria. They conditioned Syria’s return to the Arab League on securing a comprehensive political solution that would also be acceptable to the Syrian opposition.

The Biden administration is taking a firm stance against the presidential elections in Syria and aligns with the position of European countries that the presidential election in Syria is essentially a Russian-Syrian exercise aimed at restoring Bashar Assad to the presidency.

The Biden administration is also enforcing the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which went into force last June and imposed sanctions on the Assad regime and anyone who assists it.

[“Caesar” is a Syrian defector who worked for the Syrian military police and smuggled out of Syria more than 50,000 photographs of Syrian torture victims. His photographs are now crucial evidence in European trials against Syrian officials.]3

President Biden’s policy toward Syria seems to be continuing the Trump administration’s path when it comes to President Bashar Assad so far. Despite President Biden’s attempts to create a dialogue with Iran on the nuclear deal, he is not compromising on Syria, which is a significant point.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s first state visit to Russia in 2005
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s first state visit to Russia in 2005. (The Kremlin)

Russia can financially assist the Assad regime and prop him up militarily. President Putin wants Bashar Assad to continue in office, but the international community will not accept presidential elections without oversight to eliminate election fraud. It will be interesting to see what “legitimacy” President Putin will arrange for Bashar Assad.

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