Arab na­tions re­think Syria's As­sad Syr­ian leader closer to ac­cep­tance as Gulf coun­tries look to re­open em­bassies

Tulsa World - - Datelines - By Zeina Karam

May: Nix­ing Brexit plan would be `cat­a­strophic'

LON­DON — British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May warned Sun­day that law­mak­ers risk un­der­min­ing the pub­lic's faith in democ­racy if they re­ject her divorce deal with the Euro­pean Union in a vote set for Tues­day.

May said some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment were play­ing po­lit­i­cal games with the Brexit de­bate. Law­mak­ers, she said, should re­spect the re­sults of the 2016 ref­er­en­dum in which 52 per­cent of vot­ers backed leav­ing the EU.

Fail­ing to do so “would be a cat­a­strophic and un­for­giv­able breach of trust in our democ­racy,” she wrote in a com­men­tary pub­lished by the Sun­day Ex­press. “So my mes­sage to Par­lia­ment this week­end is sim­ple: it is time to for­get the games and do what is right for our coun­try.”

Canada air con­trollers buy pizza for U.S. agents

MON­TREAL — Cana­dian air traf­fic con­trollers have bought hun­dreds of piz­zas for their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts over the past few days in what has be­come an in­dus­try-wide show of sup­port dur­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment's par­tial shut­down.

Peter Duf­fey, the head of the Cana­dian Air Traf­fic Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion, said Sun­day the ini­tia­tive be­gan Thurs­day when em­ploy­ees at Ed­mon­ton's con­trol cen­ter took up a col­lec­tion to buy pies for con­trollers in Anchorage, Alaska.

Other fa­cil­i­ties across Canada de­cided to join in, and the idea snow­balled.

“The next thing we knew, our mem­bers were buy­ing piz­zas left, right and cen­ter for the col­leagues in the U.S,” Duf­fey said. “As it stands right now, I be­lieve we're up to 36 fa­cil­i­ties that have re­ceived pizza from Canada, and that num­ber is grow­ing by the hour.”

GOP leader vows ac­tion over King racist re­marks

WASH­ING­TON — The House Repub­li­can leader said Sun­day he will meet with Rep. Steve King this week to dis­cuss King's fu­ture and role in the party and promised ac­tion fol­low­ing the Iowa con­gress­man's re­cent com­ments in de­fense of white supremacy.

“That lan­guage has no place in Amer­ica. That is not the Amer­ica I know and it's most def­i­nitely not the party of Lin­coln,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Ac­tion will be taken. I'm hav­ing a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion with con­gress­man Steve King.”

King was quoted in The New York Times last week as say­ing, “White na­tion­al­ist, white su­prem­a­cist, Western civ­i­liza­tion — how did that lan­guage be­come of­fen­sive?” King has in­sisted he is an ad­vo­cate for “Western civ­i­liza­tion,” not white supremacy or white na­tion­al­ism.

He said it was a “mis­take” to use phras­ing that “cre­ated an un­nec­es­sary con­tro­versy” and de­nied be­ing racist.

BEIRUT — He has sur­vived eight years of war and bil­lions of dol­lars in money and weapons aimed at top­pling him. Now Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad is poised to be read­mit­ted to the fold of Arab na­tions, a feat once deemed un­think­able as he force­fully crushed the upris­ing against his fam­ily's rule.

Gulf Arab na­tions, once the main back­ers of rebels try­ing to oust As­sad, are lin­ing up to re­open their em­bassies in Syria, wor­ried about leav­ing the coun­try at the heart of the Arab world to re­gional ri­vals Iran and Tur­key and miss­ing out on lu­cra­tive post-war re­con­struc­tive projects. Key bor­der cross­ings with neigh­bors, shut­tered for years by the war, have re­opened, and Arab com­mer­cial air­lines are re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing re­sum­ing flights to Da­m­as­cus.

And as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump plans to pull out Amer­ica's 2,000 sol­diers from north­east­ern Syria, gov­ern­ment troops are primed to re­take the area they aban­doned in 2012 at the height of the war. This would be a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward restor­ing As­sad's con­trol over all of Syria, leav­ing only the north­west in the hands of rebels, most of them ji­hadis.

It can seem like a mind­bog­gling re­ver­sal for a leader whose mil­i­tary once seemed dan­ger­ously close to col­lapse. But Rus­sia's mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, which be­gan in 2015, steadily re­versed As­sad's losses, al­low­ing his troops, aided by Ira­nian-backed fight­ers, to re­cap­ture cities like Homs and Aleppo, key to his rule.

As­sad rules over a coun­try in ruins, with close to half a mil­lion peo­ple killed and half the pop­u­la­tion dis­placed. Ma­jor fight­ing may still lie ahead. But many see the war near­ing its end, and the 53-yearold leader is sit­ting more com­fort­ably than he has in the past eight years.

“Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion by Arab states is in­evitable,” said Faysal Itani, a res­i­dent se­nior fel­low with the At­lantic Coun­cil's Rafik Hariri Cen­ter for the Mid­dle East.

A key mo­tive for Sunni Mus­lim Gulf coun­tries is to blunt the in­volve­ment of their Shi­ite-led foe, Iran, which saw its in­flu­ence ex­pand rapidly in the chaos of Syria's war.

“Saudi Ara­bia tried briefly to help over­throw him when he seemed most vul­ner­a­ble us­ing proxy mil­i­tants,” Itani said. “With his regime likely to sur­vive, how­ever, Saudi Ara­bia would pre­fer to try and ex­er­cise in­flu­ence over As­sad to bal­ance against Iran while avoid­ing es­ca­la­tion with Iran it­self.”

A Saudi at­tempt to patch up re­la­tions with As­sad would be a pub­lic ac­knowl­edge­ment of the king­dom's fail­ure to oust him. At the same time, the in­volve­ment of Gulf Arab gov­ern­ments and pri­vate com­pa­nies is cru­cial for any se­ri­ous re­con­struc­tion ef­fort in Syria.

SANA VIA AP FILE

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad (right) meets with Su­dan's Pres­i­dent Omar Bashir in Da­m­as­cus, Syria, in De­cem­ber. After nearly eight years of con­flict, As­sad is poised to be read­mit­ted to the fold of Arab na­tions, a feat once deemed un­think­able.

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