Alwaght- As part of the positive atmosphere covering the Syrian relations with Arab countries, a delegation of Syrian ministers visited the Jordanian capital Amman on September 28. The Syrian delegation's composition, including finance, agriculture, water resources, and power ministers, is very much expressive of the economic nature of the visit and the determination of both sides to revive the past cooperation between the neighbors.
The visit took place in a situation where in the last three years we have witnessed the beginning of a process of de-escalation and normalization of relations between some Arab states and Damascus. The UAE and Bahrain reopened their embassies in Damascus in late 2018. Oman also returned its ambassador to Damascus in October 2020. In particular, in relation to Jordan, on September 20 news sources reported that the Syrian defense minister had met with the chief of staff of the Jordanian army to discuss joint military and security cooperation.
In addition, a meeting of the energy ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon was held on September 7 in the Jordanian capital to discuss the necessary measures to activate the agreements on energy transfer among them. The quadripartite meeting agreed to take the necessary steps to implement the agreement on the transfer of gas and electricity from Egypt and Jordan to Lebanon via Syrian territory.
Restoring Amman-Damascus relations
Relations between Amman and Damascus have been declining since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, following the Jordanian government's support for President Bashar al-Assad opposition in the preliminary protests in the city of Daraa. Although relations between the two countries were never completely severed, due to the proximity of the policies of Syria's southern neighbor to the Persian Gulf countries and the US, their ties were strained. Even in 2014, Jordan expelled the Syrian ambassador to Amman Behjat Suleiman. Ayman Alloush, Syria's charge d'affaires, took the task then. Syria responded reciprocally.
Then, Jordan closed down its border crossings with Syria, effectively reducing the trade volume between the two countries, which in 2011 amounted to more than $250 million. However, it seems that the visit of the Syrian defense minister to Jordan, as well as this Syrian delegation's visit which is mostly of an economic nature, has become a ground for reviving the strained relations between the two countries. Along with the news of Amman visit, reports suggested that all border crossings between the two countries were reopened in expression of Damascus-Amman resolve for fast growth of economic ties.
The Jordan officials' comments confirm this trend. In a meeting with the Syrian delegation, the Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh stressed the importance of strengthening cooperation between Jordan and Syria in various fields to ensure the common interests of the two neighbors and expressed hope that the meetings and trips between the two countries should lead to benefit points and strengthen the "historical ties that unite the two nations." The Syrian official news agency SANA reported that trade, transportation, agriculture, and water resources were discussed by the ministers.
Reviving traditional bilateral cooperation
Having in mind that the two countries share 375 kilometers of borders, the border crossings are of significance in their trade. While struggling with economic troubles that are still existing, Jordan closed down a major border crossing, Jaber-Nasib, with Syria in early years of conflict— a move that proved largely against Amman interests, forcing down their trade to just $13.9 in 2016. Jordan now looks to reopen the trade with Syria to reverse the damage.
At another level, Jordan has been working with Iraq and Egypt to strengthen economic, energy, and trade ties over the past two years, under a project known as the "New Levant, or "Arab Unity Plan". Although the plan, and the negotiations around it, are historically unrelated to Syria and Damascus has never been one of the main parties of the plan, it seems that for Jordan partnership with Syria is a support pole to implementing the New Levant project.
In fact, Jordan, as a linking ring between Egypt and Iraq in trade and energy cooperation, by reviving its traditional cooperation with Damascus can take an important step in shoring up its position in New Levant project. The Jordanian desire for this partnership is understandable from words of Jordanian PM who emphasized rapid implementation of plans for gas and power transfer to Lebanon via Syria.
US pressure campaign fails, giving way to regional peace boom
Restored trade ties and reopened border crossings have a definite message to carry: The US policy of sanctions and pressures against legitimate Syrian government has fallen. This is happening while Amman is Washington's ally whose foreign policy is not independent. Now that the debate around the American exit from the region gains more weight, the Jordanian leaders come up with the notion that they need to choose peaceful coexistence with their northern neighbor than rely on a diminishing US alliance— an agenda that can greatly re-establish peace and stability in the region.