Sudan president lands in Syria in 1st visit by Arab leader

Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) received his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir upon his arrival in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP/HO/SANA)
Updated 17 December 2018
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Sudan president lands in Syria in 1st visit by Arab leader

  • Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011
  • In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility

DAMASCUS, Syria: Sudan’s president on Sunday became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria since civil war erupted there nearly eight years ago.
Omar Al-Bashir was greeted at the Damascus airport by Syrian President Bashar Assad before they both headed to the presidential palace, where they held talks on bilateral relations and the latest developments in Syria and the region, according to the state-run news agency.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.
The reason for Al-Bashir’s visit was not immediately clear. But with the war in Syria winding down in favor of Assad as his troops recapture key cities and population centers, some Arab officials have expressed interest in exploring the restoration of ties.
In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility. He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but he said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.
The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm meeting between the Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September in New York. The meeting turned heads because it featured hugs between the two ministers.
The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.
The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the Sudanese president as saying during the meeting with Assad that he hopes Syria will recover its important role in the region as soon as possible. He also affirmed Sudan’s readiness to provide all that it can to support Syria’s territorial integrity.
SANA said Assad thanked Al-Bashir for his visit, asserting that it will give strong momentum for restoring relations between the two countries “to the way it was before the war on Syria.”
Photographs transmitted by SANA showed the two leaders shaking hands at the airport in front of a Russian plane that appears to have brought Al-Bashir to Syria. Russia, a key ally of Assad, maintains an air base southeast of the Syrian city of Latakia.
Al-Bashir has been Sudan’s leader since 1989 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to face war crimes charges stemming from a conflict in his own country.


US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

Updated 21 January 2019
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US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

  • Former envoy Brett McGurk says the absence of a plan is increasing the risk to US forces
  • Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, Daesh had been defeated

WASHINGTON: The United States has no plan for Syria as it proceeds with President Donald Trump’s order to pull American troops out of the country, a top official who quit in protest at the policy said on Sunday.
Brett McGurk, who was America’s envoy to the US-led global coalition against the Daesh group, said “there’s no plan for what’s coming next” and this is increasing the risk to US forces.
He spoke in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” after a suicide bomber on Wednesday killed four Americans and 15 others in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. It was the deadliest attack to hit US troops since they deployed to Syria in 2014 to assist local forces against the Daesh group.
The bombing came after Trump’s announcement last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops from Syria, shocking allies and leading to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as well as McGurk.
Senior US officials have since given contradictory statements about US intentions, but the Pentagon said it had begun the withdrawal, although how long it would take remained uncertain.
“The president has made that clear — we are leaving. And that means our force should be really with one mission: to get out and get out safely,” McGurk told “Face the Nation.”
But he added: “Right now we do not have a plan. It increases a vulnerability of our force... It is increasing the risk to our people on the ground in Syria and will open up space for Daesh,” another acronym for IS.
Most importantly, said McGurk, the US cannot expect “a partner” such as NATO-ally Turkey to take the place of the United States.
“That is not realistic. And if our forces are under order to withdraw, as at the same time they are trying to find some formula for another coalition partner to come in, that is not workable. That is not a viable plan.”
Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, IS had been defeated — something McGurk and other experts dispute.
McGurk has previously warned that the US pullout would shore up Syria’s President Bashar Assad and lessen America’s leverage with Russia and Iran.