The US State Department has once again voiced its opposition to a potential normalization of ties between the Turkish government and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that all countries trying to engage with the Syrian regime should think how this would help the Syrian people.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a key supporter of rebels seeking to topple Assad since 2011, voiced a willingness to meet with the Syrian leader after rival neighbors’ defense ministers held landmark negotiations in Moscow in late December, the first such meeting since 2011.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also announced on Thursday that he would meet with his Syrian counterpart in February as part of efforts to normalize ties.
“So the position we’ve put forward when it comes to potential normalization with the Assad regime is not a position that is particular or unique to any single country. It applies across the board. We have made clear that we will not normalize and we do not support other countries normalizing with the Assad regime,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a press briefing in Washington on Thursday.
Price said anyone engaging with the Syrian regime should ask how that engagement is benefiting the Syrian people, whom he said were “a people that have borne the vicious brunt of what their own government has inflicted upon them.”
Assad, helped by Russian airpower, has largely restored control over Syria after the conflict that has killed half a million people, displaced half the country’s pre-war population and saw the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremist group.
When asked why the United States hasn’t made better use of the Caesar Act if it is concerned by efforts at normalization with the Assad regime, Price said the United States remains focused on putting pressure on the Assad regime and those around it by working with the international community to hold the “brutal dictator” and his regime to account for the atrocities they have perpetrated on their own people.
“Some of these atrocities amount to war crimes. Some of these atrocities amount to crimes against humanity as well,” he added.
The United States, under the so-called Caesar Act, which took effect in 2020, authorizes sanctions against Assad over war abuses and bars US support for reconstruction without accountability.
Meanwhile, Syria’s Assad said Thursday that the Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkey should aim for “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.
The comment, in a statement from his office, was Assad’s first on meetings between ministers from Ankara and Damascus after more than a decade of enmity during Syria’s civil war.