Foreign relations of Syria
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politics and government of
Ensuring national security, increasing influence among its Arab neighbors, and securing the return of the Golan Heights, have been the primary goals of Syria's foreign policy. At many points in its history, Syria has seen virulent tension with its geographically cultural neighbors, such as Turkey, Israel, Iraq, and Lebanon. Syria enjoyed an improvement in relations with several of the states in its region in the 21st century, prior to the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War.
Since the ongoing civil war, Syria has been increasingly isolated from the countries in the region, and the wider international community. Diplomatic relations have been severed with several countries including: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2012. Syria continues to foster good relations with its traditional allies, Iran and Russia. Other countries that presently maintain good relations with Syria include China, North Korea, Angola, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Guyana, India, South Africa, Tanzania, Pakistan, Armenia, Argentina, Belarus, Tajikistan, Philippines, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and others. From among the Arab League states, Syria continues to have good relations with Iraq, Egypt (after 3 July 2013), Algeria, Kuwait, Lebanon and Oman.
Arab nationalism is a fundamental doctrine of Syrian government policy, and as such it doesn't consider inhabitants of other Arab states as 'foreigners'. Rather the Syrian Arab Republic is considered as part of one vast Arab homeland, al-watan al-arabi.
Syria's relations with the Arab world were strained by its support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq War, which began in 1980. With the end of the war in August 1988, Syria began a slow process of reintegration with the other Arab states. In 1989, it joined with the rest of the Arab world in readmitting Egypt to the 19th Arab League Summit at Casablanca.
This decision, prompted in part by Syria's need for Arab League support of its own position in Lebanon, marked the end of the Syrian-led opposition to Egypt and the 1977–79 Sadat initiatives toward Israel, as well as the Camp David Accords. It coincided with the end of the 10-year Arab subsidy to Syria and other front-line Arab countries pledged at Baghdad in 1978. Syria re-established full diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1989. In the 1990–1991 Gulf War, Syria joined other Arab states in the US-led multinational coalition against Iraq. In 1998, Syria began a slow rapprochement with Iraq, driven primarily by economic needs. Syria continues to play an active pan-Arab role, which has intensified as the peace process collapsed in September 2000 with the start of the second Palestinian uprising (Intifada) against Israel. Though it voted in favor of UNSCR 1441 in 2002, Syria was against coalition military action in Iraq in 2003. However, the Syrian government accepted UNSCR 1483 (after being absent for the actual vote), which lifted sanctions on Iraq and established a framework to assist the Iraqi people in determining their political future and rebuilding their economy. Currently, much of the Middle East has condemned Syria's handling of the civil uprising, with only a few countries in the Middle East supporting Syria, most notably Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
Syrian has been temporarily suspended from the Arab League since the Syrian civil war. On 26 March 2013, at the Arab league summit in Doha, the League recognised the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The National Coalition was henceforth granted Damascus' seat at the summit. This act of recognition was opposed by Algeria, Iraq & Lebanon.
Syria and Iran are strategic allies. Syria is often called Iran's "closest ally", the Arab nationalism ideology of Syria's ruling Baath party notwithstanding. During the Iran–Iraq War, Syria sided with non-Arab Iran against its enemy Iraq and was isolated by Saudi Arabia and some of the Arab countries, with the exceptions of Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Oman. Iran and Syria have had a strategic alliance ever since, partially due to their common animosity towards Saddam Hussein and coordination against the United States and Israel. Syria and Iran cooperate on arms smuggling from Iran to the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which borders Israel.
On 16 June 2006 the defence ministers of Iran and Syria signed an agreement for military cooperation against what they called the "common threats" presented by Israel and the United States. Details of the agreement were not specified, however Iranian defense minister Najjar said "Iran considers Syria's security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria." The visit also resulted in the sale of Iranian military hardware to Syria. In addition to receiving military hardware, Iran has consistently invested billions of dollars into the Syrian economy. The Syrian leadership, including President Assad himself, belongs predominantly to the Alawite branch of Shi'a Islam. Currently, Iran is involved in implementing several industrial projects in Syria, including cement factories, car assembly lines, power plants, and silo construction. Iran also plans to set up a joint Iranian–Syrian bank in the future.
The political states of Iraq and Syria were formed by the United Kingdom and France following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Iraq and Syria are united by historical, social, political, cultural and economic relations, but share a long foreign drawn border. The land known as Mesopotamia is Iraq and eastern Syria and is called such by its inhabitants. Political relations between Iraq and Syria have in the past seen difficulties, however, new diplomatic relations described by both sides as "Historic" were established in November 2006, beginning an era of close cooperation and political friendship between Iraq and Syria.
Syria has been an active belligerent, with periodic ceasefires and use of proxies, against Israel ever since May 1948, when the Syrian army captured territory from the newly established State of Israel north and south of the Sea of Galilee. Most of this territory was returned to Israel after the signing of the July 1949 Armistice Agreement and declared Demilitarized Zones. However, the exact location of the border between the two states, ownership of portions of territory and the right of Israeli farmers to farm the land in the Demilitarized Zones on the Israeli side of the border remained in dispute and sparked intermittent fighting between Syria and Israel until the 1967 Arab–Israeli War. Through the early 1950s the Syrians gradually retook de facto control of some of the territory ostensibly belonging to Israel (along the foot of part of the western escarpment of the Golan Heights north of the Sea of Galilee, along the north-eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee and the low ground below the southern escarpment of the Golan). In addition to the territorial dispute, small-scale fighting was also sparked by a dispute over Israel's right to pump water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee (actually a fresh-water lake) for use in agricultural irrigation and drinking. From 1964 to 1966 the Syrians attempted to dig a canal that would divert the sources of the Jordan River before they entered Israeli territory—thus drying up that portion of the River and dramatically reducing the water-intake of the Sea of Galilee to prevent Israel from using that water. This led to a period of escalated fighting as the Israelis sought to prevent this diversion project which threatened to severely damage their ability to provide fresh-water to their population and agriculture (attempts to negotiate a solution by UN mediators failed). In fact, escalation of incidents between Israel and Syria in late 1966 and spring 1967 was one of the prime causes leading to the crisis that precipitated the Six Day War.
Syria was an active belligerent in the 1967 Arab–Israeli War, which resulted in Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights and the city of Quneitra. On 19 June, a week after the war ended, Israel offered to return the Golan if Syrian would agree to a full Peace Treaty. However, Syria refused. From 1967 to 1973 there were sporadic bouts of fighting along the new border.
Following the October 1973 Arab–Israeli War, which left Israel in occupation of additional Syrian territory, Syria accepted UN Security Council Resolution 338, which signaled an implicit acceptance of Resolution 242. Resolution 242, which became the basis for the peace process negotiations begun in Madrid, calls for a just and lasting Middle East peace to include withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories (note: not all territories) occupied in 1967; termination of the state of belligerency; and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all regional states and of their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.
As a result of the mediation efforts of then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Syria and Israel concluded a disengagement agreement in May 1974, enabling Syria to recover territory lost in the October war and part of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since 1967, including Quneitra. The two sides have effectively implemented the agreement, which is monitored by UN forces.
In December 1981, the Israeli Knesset voted to extend Israeli law to the part of the Golan Heights over which Israel retained control. The UN Security Council subsequently passed a resolution calling on Israel to rescind this measure. Syria participated in the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991. Negotiations were conducted intermittently through the 1990s, and came very close to succeeding. However, the parties were unable to come to an agreement due to President Bill Clinton's failure to consult with the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad during the negotiating process, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's backtracking on the issue of the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and Syria's nonnegotiable demand that Israel withdraw to the positions it held on 4 June 1967 (which meant Israel would relinquish its claim to territory occupied by the Syrians in the early 1950s in contravention to the 1949 Armistice Agreement—including the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee). A major stumbling-block was that in response to Israel's demand that the entire Golan from the Jordan River to the outskirts of Damascus be demilitarized the Syrians demanded that Israel demilitarize all its territory to a similar distance from the new border. This was not acceptable to Israel as it would have effectively left all of northern Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (more than a quarter of Israel), including the entire length of Israel's border with Lebanon, completely defenceless. The peace negotiations collapsed following the outbreak of the second Palestinian (Intifada) uprising in September 2000, though Syria continues to call for a comprehensive settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the land-for-peace formula adopted at the 1991 Madrid conference.
Tensions between Israel and Syria increased as the Intifada dragged on, primarily as a result of Syria's refusal to stop giving sanctuary to Palestinian militant groups conducting operations against Israel. In October 2003, following a suicide bombing carried out by a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Haifa that killed 20 Israeli citizens, Israeli Defense Forces attacked a suspected Palestinian militant training camp 15 kilometers north of Damascus. This was the first such Israeli attack deep inside Syrian territory since the 1973 war. Syria announced it would respond diplomatically, and asked the UN Security Council to condemn the Israeli action.
Hostility between Syria and Israel further increased following Israel's execution of Operation Orchard on 6 September 2007. Israel bombed a northern Syrian complex near Dayr az-Zawr which was suspected of holding nuclear materials from North Korea.
In 2008 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad confirmed that talks with Israel have resumed through a third party. The expatriates minister, Buthaina Shaaban has also confirmed that Israel is ready to give up the Golan Heights
Jordanian interest in Syria began in 1921, when the founder of the Emirate of Transjordan, Abdallah, sought to advance into Syria, from which his brother had been expelled by the French, and which he regarded as part of the promised Hashemite kingdom. Even as late as 1946, when both countries gained independence, King Abdallah did not abandon his plan to become king of Syria. Syria considered Abdallah's schemes for an expanded Hashimite kingdom as intervention in its domestic affairs and officially complained to the Arab League.
After the first Gulf War relations between Jordan and Syria had improved. After the Treaty of Peace Between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in which Jordan established diplomatic ties with Israel, Jordan has been an important transit point for Syrian businessmen doing business in the Palestinian territories.
Jordan has been accepting Syrian military defectors since the Syrian civil war.
Syria plays an important role in Lebanon by virtue of its history, size, power, and economy. Lebanon was part of Ottoman Syria until 1926. The presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon dates to 1976, when President Hafez Al-Assad intervened in the Lebanese civil war on behalf of Maronite Christians. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Syrian and Israeli forces clashed in eastern Lebanon. The late U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib negotiated a cease-fire in Lebanon and the subsequent evacuation of PLO fighters from West Beirut. However, Syrian opposition blocked implementation of the 17 May 1983 Lebanese-Israeli accord on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. Following the February 1984 withdrawal of the UN Multinational Force from Beirut and the departure of most of Israel's forces from southern Lebanon a year later, Syria launched an unsuccessful initiative to reconcile warring Lebanese factions and establish a permanent cease-fire. Syria actively participated in the March–September 1989 fighting between the Christian Lebanese Forces and Muslim forces allied with Syria. In 1989, Syria endorsed the Charter of National Reconciliation, or "Taif Accord", a comprehensive plan for ending the Lebanese conflict negotiated under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco.
At the request of Lebanese President Hrawi, the Syrian military took joint action with the Lebanese Armed Forces on 13 October 1990, to oust rebel Gen. Michel Aoun who had defied efforts at reconciliation with the legitimate Government of Lebanon. The process of disarming and disbanding the many Lebanese militias began in earnest in early 1991. In May 1991, Lebanon and Syria signed the treaty of brotherhood, cooperation, and coordination called for in the Taif Accord, which is intended to provide the basis for many aspects of Syrian-Lebanese relations. The treaty provides the most explicit recognition to date by the Syrian Government of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty.
According to the U.S. interpretation of the Taif Accord, Syria and Lebanon were to have decided on the redeployment of Syrian forces from Beirut and other coastal areas of Lebanon by September 1992. Israeli occupation of Lebanon until May 2000, the breakdown of peace negotiations between Syria and Israel that same year, and intensifying Arab/Israeli tensions since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000 have helped delay full implementation of the Taif Accords. The UN declared that Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon fulfilled the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 425. However, Syria and Lebanon claimed that UNSCR 425 had not been fully implemented because Israel did not withdraw from an area of the Golan Heights called Shebaa Farms, which had been occupied by Israel in 1967, and which Syria now claimed was part of Lebanon. The United Nations does not recognize this claim. However, Lebanese resistance groups such as Hezbollah use it to justify attacks against Israeli forces in that region, creating a potentially dangerous flashpoint along the Lebanon-Israeli border.
In 2005, Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon after the assassination of Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005. In December 2008, The Syrian Embassy was opened in Beirut for the first time in history since both countries gained their Independence during the 1940s. In March 2009, Lebanon followed and opened its Embassy in Damascus. On 19 December 2009, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri visited Syria, and stayed in Damascus for three days meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad & breaking the ice between the two sides.
Qatar along with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait have closed their embassies in Syria.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the Arab League and Syria is an ex-member. Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia have become severed due to the Syrian Civil War and Saudi Arabia's support for the rebels and their support for the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power. The Saudi monarchy certainly hopes that a new government will emerge and that any government which emerges afterward will be more appeasing to Saudi interests. Many have criticized Saudi Arabia for its support of the Islamic State behind public eye (since both share in their practice of the extremist Islamic sect of Wahabism, and their punishment methods using beheading are identical in their ideology). further distancing itself from the Syrian government.In August 2008, Saudi Arabian ambassador was called back to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also closed its embassy in Syria, following the Syrian Civil War.
Syrian–Turkish relations have long been strained even though Turkey shares its longest common border with Syria and various other geographic, cultural, and historical links tie the two neighboring states together.
This friction has been due to disputes including the self annexation of the Hatay Province to Turkey in 1939, water disputes resulting from the Southeastern Anatolia Project, and Syria’s support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), but relations have improved greatly since October 1998; when PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was expelled by Syrian authorities.
Syria currently maintains an embassy in Ankara and two consulates–general in Istanbul and Gaziantep. Turkey has closed its embassy in Damascus and it consulate–general in Aleppo. Both countries are full members of the Union for the Mediterranean and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Because of the Syrian civil war relations between Syria and Turkey have become increasingly tense. Turkey has been taking in refugees from Syria, although abuse and injustice towards the Syrian refugees has been reported. Relations have further been degraded due to a serious incident that occurred with the Syrian downing of a Turkish military training flight in June 2012. Relations worsened further in May 2013 following a border incident involving two car bombs exploding in the town of Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 43 people were killed and 140 more were injured in the attack. The car bombs were left outside Reyhanlı's town hall and post office. The first exploded at around 13:45 local time (10:45 GMT) and the second exploded about 15 minutes later.
The issue that cemented the crack in the relations was Turkey's reportedly confirmed dealings with the Islamic State (an enemy of the Syrian government) in oil and weapons by various sources. A video surfacing of the Islamic State being unopposed by Turkish security as they traveled across the border between Syria, questions more of Turkey's alleged role of simply fighting terrorism. Although large allies such as the United States refuses to acknowledge these facts (because of Turkey's importance as an ally), evidence suggests that this event will not prompt relations between Turkey and Syria to improve in the future.
Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus on 26 March 2012.
|Country||Formal Relations Began||Notes|
Main article: Armenia–Syria relations
Armenia has an embassy in Damascus and a consulate general in Aleppo. Since 1997, Syria has an embassy in Yerevan. There are around 120,000 people of Armenian descent living in the Syria (See Armenians in Syria).
|Belarus||26 August 1993||See Foreign relations of Belarus|
|Bulgaria||24 August 1954||See Bulgaria–Syria relations|
|Croatia||See Foreign relations of Croatia|
|Denmark||29 August 1992||See Denmark–Syria relations|
|France||See France–Syria relations|
|Germany||The German embassy in Damascus closed on 19 January 2012. Diplomatic affairs are currently handled through the embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Syria has an embassy in Berlin.|
|Greece||See Foreign relations of Greece|
|Holy See||See Foreign relations of the Holy See|
|Romania||See Romania–Syria relations|
|Serbia||See Foreign relations of Serbia|
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad became the first Syrian head of state to visit Cyprus in November 2010, resulting in the signing of five agreements between the two countries and pledges to work closer together on issues of common interest. The two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in the sectors of tourism, construction, energy, transport, education, services, and telecommunications, as well as other fields in the public and private sector. The most important agreement signed was on coordinating search and rescue services. In addition, Cyprus and Syria signed agreements on cooperation in Telecommunications and Information Technology Services, Air Services, cultural cooperation for 2009–2011, Social Security and Agriculture. The 7th Protocol for the implementation of the agreement on Tourism Cooperation for the years 2009–2011 was also signed. The two countries also reached an agreement on technical cooperation between the Central Banks of the two countries. After the talks, Christofias awarded al-Assad the Grand Collar of the Order of Makarios III, while the Syrian leader presented Christofias with the National Order of Ummayya with the Grand Sash.
Russia has an embassy in Damascus and a consulate in Aleppo, and Syria has an embassy in Moscow. As with most of the Arab countries, Russia enjoys a historically strong and stable friendly relationship with Syria.
Since 1971, Russia has leased port facilities in Tartus for its naval fleet. Between 1992 and 2008 these facilities were much in disrepair, however, works have commenced concurrent with the 2008 South Ossetia war to improve the port's facilities to support an increased Mediterranean presence of the Russian Navy.
Russia has been supporting Syria in the Syrian civil war.
Rest of world
Diplomatic relations between both countries were established on 1 August 1956. China has an embassy in Damascus and Syria has an embassy in Beijing.
The total volume of import and export between China and Syria in 2001 was US$223,190,000, of which the Chinese export was US$223,180,000, and import US$10,000. China has helped Syria in building some projects such as textile mill and stadium. China currently has contracted to build a hydraulic power station and a rubber tire factory.
India and Syria has historical and cultural links dating back to silk route trade.
In September 2015, Syria government paid tribute to Kim Il-sung in a ceremony for a new park in Damascus named in his honor.
Syria awarded South Korea the following: the 1994 April Command Office Communication Ali 1994 September Minister of Information and Communication Radwan 2000 June Economic Mission of Syria 2007 October President of University of Aleppo.
Both countries were on the silk route through which civilizational exchanges took place for centuries, Islamic missionaries that introduced Islam after 711 AD were from Syria. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (usually referred to as the Ramadan war in Pakistan) several Pakistani pilots assisted the Syrian air force. In 2005 Syria and Pakistan agreed on mutual cooperation in the fields of science and technology.
While relations between the two states have long since been tense, the two have maintained diplomatic exchanges. However, relations took an ominous turn in October 2008 with a cross-border raid during the Iraq war to ostensibly fend off the rise of allegedly foreign militants into the Iraq fighting for the Iraqi resistance. As of 2012, the embassy of the United States is suspended due to the Syrian civil war.
As of 21 August 2013, the United States has threatened to strike key Syrian chemical and biological weapons installations in response to a chemical attack that was carried out by forces loyal to Assad on a rebel stronghold within the capital Damascus. Assad had denied any involvement, however President Obama claims to have intelligence proving otherwise. No proof has been given to the public other than reports from key United States senators and representatives. As of 4 September 2013, the Committee on Foreign Relations approved an attack with a 10-7 vote.
Membership in international organizations
Syria is a member of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Arab League, Arab Monetary Fund, Council of Arab Economic Unity, Customs Cooperation Council, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Food and Agricultural Organization, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Chamber of Commerce, International Development Association, Islamic Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Finance Corporation, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Maritime Organization, INTELSAT, INTERPOL, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, UN, UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Universal Postal Union, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and World Tourism Organization. Syria is 1 of only 7 U.N. members which is not a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Syria's 2-year term as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council ended in December 2003.
Disputes – international:
- Western Golan Heights with Israel;
- dispute with upstream riparian Turkey over Turkish water development plans for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
- dispute with Turkey concerning the Turkish occupation of North Syria
- List of diplomatic missions in Syria
- List of diplomatic missions of Syria
- EU Neighbourhood Info Centre: Country profile of Syria
This article is adapted from the United States Department of State Background note on Syria, visualised December 2003, the current version of which is available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm#foreign.
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