Syria agrees to curb drug trade in meeting with Arab ministers

The landmark talks come as efforts continue by some Arab states to reintegrate Syria into the Arab League.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi shakes hands with Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad
Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (left) shakes hands with Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi before the start of the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan [Alaa Al Sukhni/Reuters]

Syria has agreed to tackle drug trafficking across its borders with Jordan and Iraq, following a meeting of Arab foreign ministers aimed at discussing the normalisation of ties with Damascus.

The group said in a statement on Monday that Damascus had agreed to “take the necessary steps to end smuggling on the borders with Jordan and Iraq” after the foreign ministers of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan met in the Jordanian capital Amman.

The landmark talks come more than a decade after the suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League in 2011, following President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman said the group aimed to build on their contacts with the Syrian government and discuss a “Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis”.

Prior to the talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad met bilaterally with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, according to the Jordanian foreign ministry.

They discussed refugees, water issues and border security, including the fight against drug smuggling, the ministry said.

Amman has been fighting armed groups smuggling narcotics from Syria, including the highly-addictive amphetamine Captagon. Jordan is both a destination and a main transit route to the oil-rich Gulf countries for Captagon.

Normalising ties

In recent years, as al-Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbours have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.

The overtures picked up pace after a deadly February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in the conflict.

Monday’s meeting came two weeks after talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah between the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, failed to reach an agreement on Syria’s possible return to the Arab fold.

Arab states tried to reach a consensus on whether to invite al-Assad to the Arab League summit on May 19 in Riyadh, to discuss the pace of normalising ties with al-Assad and on what terms Syria could be allowed back.

Regional superpower Saudi Arabia had long resisted normalising relations with al-Assad, but after its rapprochement with Iran – Syria’s key regional ally – it opted for a new approach.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud visited Damascus last month for the first time since the kingdom cut ties with Syria more than a decade ago.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will travel to Damascus on Wednesday, Iranian state media reported, as part of a “very important” two-day visit.

Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait have opposed al-Assad’s presence at the Arab League summit, saying an invitation before Damascus agrees to negotiate a peace plan would be premature.

The United States has said it will not change its policy towards the Syrian government, which it terms a “rogue” state, and has urged Arab states to get something in return for engaging with al-Assad.

The 12-year war in Syria has claimed around half a million lives and nearly half of its population are now refugees or internally displaced.

Swathes of territory still remain outside government control, but al-Assad is hoping full normalisation of ties with wealthy Gulf monarchies will help finance the reconstruction of the country’s war-ravaged infrastructure.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies