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US does not support normalization of relations with Syria

October 13, 2021 GMT
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, third from right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
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United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, third from right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
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United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, third from right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

BEIRUT (AP) — The United States does not support efforts to normalize relations with the government of President Bashar Assad or lift sanctions imposed on Damascus until there is progress in the political process in the war-torn country, the U.S. secretary of state said Wednesday.

Antony Blinken’s comments come as some Arab countries recently began improving relations with Syria. Assad and King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke over the phone last week for the first time since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011. Syria’s defense minister last month visited Jordan and met with Jordanian military officials.

Syria was also invited to take part in the Dubai’s Expo 2020, the first world’s fair in the Middle East. Crisis-hit Lebanon is working on getting electricity from Jordan through Syria and a 10-year old deal to transport Egyptian natural gas through Jordan and Syria to Lebanon was also revived in September.

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Blinken spoke during a joint news conference in Washington with the foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Arab and Western countries blamed Assad for the deadly crackdown on the uprising that erupted in 2011, and supported the opposition in early days of the conflict. Syria’s civil war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions.

The tide of the war changed in late 2015, when Russia threw its military weight behind Assad. Still, Syria is struggling with sanctions imposed by the United States and many Western nations.

“What we’ve not done and we do not intend to do is to express any support for efforts to normalize relations or rehabilitate Mr. Assad or lift a single sanction on Syria or change our positions to oppose the reconstruction of Syria,” Blinken said in Washington when asked whether the U.S. endorses that some Arab countries are resuming normal ties with Assad’s government.

He said this policy will not change “until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution, which we believe is necessary and vital.”