July 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Secretary of State and Arab League Chief Meet After U.S. Condemns League’s Readmission of Syria

July 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Secretary of State and Arab League Chief Meet After U.S. Condemns League’s Readmission of Syria

Latest Developments

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with League of Arab States Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the State Department on July 19. Blinken and Aboul Gheit did not discuss the specifics of their conversation, but the Biden administration had previously criticized the league for its readmission of Syria.

In May, the Arab League welcomed back Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad after a 12-year hiatus during a summit in Saudi Arabia notwithstanding Assad’s continued atrocities. Despite the administration’s opposition to readmitting Syria, it encouraged Arab governments to engage with Damascus. The league’s member states hope Assad’s return will motivate him to restrain his regime’s narco-trafficking, yet Damascus has little reason to dial back its production and export of captagon, an illegal amphetamine-like drug spreading across the region.

Expert Analysis

“The Arab League and its chief are ceremonial and irrelevant and have no say over Arab policies or politics whatsoever. The fact that the U.S. secretary of state grants such an audience to such an organization suggests that sometimes this administration endorses multilateralism for multilateralism’s sake, even without a clear purpose or outcome.” — Hussain Abdul-Hussain, FDD Research Fellow

“The Biden administration committed to having human rights as the centerpiece of its foreign policy. While Arab League members roll out the red carpet for Assad, the Syrian strongman openly massacres his own citizens and diverts U.S.-funded humanitarian aid to refill his coffers. If the United States is serious about addressing Assad’s atrocities, it needs to return to a policy of isolating the regime.” — Toby Dershowitz, FDD Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy

“The Biden administration pretends to have an interest in holding Assad accountable but barely enforces sanctions and tells Arab governments it’s okay to make deals with Damascus. Those governments understood that Washington was only paying lip service to human rights and went ahead with Assad’s rehabilitation. But a bipartisan coalition in Congress is on to the White House’s game and is pushing for measures like the Assad Anti-Normalization Act.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research

Assad’s Rehabilitation

The Arab League suspended and sanctioned Syria at the start of the country’s civil war in 2011 for its violent suppression and torture of peaceful protestors. Yet as Assad held onto power with the help of Russia and Iran, Arab states began to show an interest in reestablishing their relationships with Damascus. A handful of Gulf states sought to reengage before Biden took office, yet the main rush to repair ties began only in the summer of 2021 after the Biden administration endorsed a pair of regional energy deals that included Damascus.

Syria Has Become a Narco-State

At an Arab League meeting on May 1, Assad vowed to stop the smuggling of captagon from Syria across the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. Yet the Assad family oversees and profits from the continued production and smuggling of the highly addictive substance — growing it into a multibillion-dollar industry, according to the New York Times. According to the report, the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army — commanded by Assad’s younger brother Maher al-Assad — oversees the production and distribution of the drug. Others involved include major businessmen with ties to Assad and his extended family.

Biden is quietly encouraging Assad’s rehabilitation. He should reverse course.” by David Adesnik

Unrepentant, Unreformed Syrian Regime Returns to Arab League,” FDD Flash Brief

Assad Will Return to Arab League Summit, Courtesy of Saudi Invite,” FDD Flash Brief

New European Sanctions Target Assad Regime Narco-Traffickers,” by Natalie Ecanow


Arab Politics Syria