Jordan’s Abdullah receives first call from Syria’s Assad since start of conflict – Metro US

Jordan’s Abdullah receives first call from Syria’s Assad since start of conflict

FILE PHOTO: Jordan’s King Abdullah II listens during a meeting
FILE PHOTO: Jordan’s King Abdullah II listens during a meeting in Amman, Jordan

AMMAN (Reuters) -Jordan’s King Abdullah received a phone call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the royal palace said on Sunday in what officials said was the first such communication since the start of the conflict in Syria a decade ago.

The conversation was the latest step in thawing relations between leaders who had long been on opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, with Jordan supporting Syrian Western-backed mainstream rebels seeking to drive Assad from power.

“They discussed relations between the two brotherly countries and ways of enhancing cooperation,” the Jordanian palace statement said.

King Abdullah told Assad his country supported the territorial integrity of its northern neighbour and efforts to preserve its “stability and sovereignty”, the palace statement said.

The king had called for Assad to step down after the Syrian leader’s bloody crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests against his authoritarian rule at the start of the conflict in 2011 and Jordan became a conduit for Western and Arab weapon supplies to forces trying to oust Assad.

The staunch U.S. ally has, however, in the last few months accelerated steps to normalise ties with Syria and nearly two weeks ago received the Syrian defence minister in a rare visit to coordinate cross-border security.

King Abdullah said in an interview with CNN in July that Assad was there to stay and that the status quo that kept Damascus ostracised by the international community was untenable.

Abdullah has been pressing Washington for months to engage Syria and back Russia’s intervention in the war-torn country, saying this is needed to wean the country away from Iran’s growing foothold, officials say.

Abdullah, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin in August and has backed Moscow’s role Syria, supported efforts to rehabilitate Damascus into the Arab fold and regain its seat in the Arab League, officials said.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that Washington has no plans to “normalise or upgrade” diplomatic relations with Assad’s government and also does not encourage others to do so.

Amman has sought Russia’s support to rein in the growing foothold of pro-Iranian militias who hold sway in southern Syria along the Syrian border with Jordan which has also alarmed Israel and Washington, officials add.

Jordan is prodding Washington to lift parts of the 2019 Caesar Act – the toughest U.S. sanctions yet that prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus that has hampered wider dealings with Syria, a senior official said.

Amman was waiting for a U.S. waiver that will allow its state airliner Royal Jordanian (RJ) to resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time since the outset of the conflict, the official who requested anonymity said.

Jordan last week fully reopened a border crossing with Syria to boost investment and trade that had suffered during the decade-old conflict.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-KhalidiEditing by Philippa Fletcher, Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)