Qatar has no plan to normalise ties with Syria: Foreign minister

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the idea of regional unity towards Syria is ‘wishful thinking’.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was responding to a question about the UAE foreign minister's visit to Damascus [Olivier Douliery /Reuters]

Qatar is not considering normalising ties with Syria and hopes other countries will be discouraged from taking further steps with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said.

His comments at a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington were in response to a question on a visit this week by the foreign minister of fellow Gulf state the United Arab Emirates to Damascus.

“It will be wishful thinking to have all the countries in the region united when it comes to the issue of Syria, and we hope that countries will be discouraged from taking further steps with the Syrian regime in order not to (worsen) the misery of the Syrian people,” Al Thani said on Friday.

“We don’t see any serious steps by the Assad regime showing his commitment to repair the damage that he made for his own country and people,” he added.

Qatar was among several regional states including Saudi Arabia that backed rebels in Syria’s decades-old civil war. Some like the UAE have sought to normalise ties after Assad regained control of most of the country.

The UAE earlier this year called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed met with Assad in Damascus in the first such visit by a senior Emirati dignitary since the civil war erupted.

Washington, which opposes efforts to normalise ties with Assad until progress is made towards a political solution to the conflict, said it was concerned about the move by the UAE, one of its allies.

At Friday’s press conference, Blinken said the US is concerned about “the signals that some of these visits and engagements are sending”.

“I would simply urge all of our partners to remember the crimes that the Assad regime has committed and indeed continues to commit. We don’t support normalisation,” he added.

Last month, the Emirati economy ministry said it had agreed with its Syrian counterpart to enhance trade and economic cooperation.

Ties between the two countries have slowly rekindled since the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in late 2018. In March 2019, bin Zayed said the UAE intended “to ensure that Syria returns to the Arab region”.

Last month, al-Assad held a phone call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The conversation was preceded by the full reopening of a main border crossing between the two countries in September.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies