US, UK oppose Syria's re-admission to Arab League

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Britain voiced dissatisfaction Tuesday with the weekend decision by the Arab League to re-instate Syria as a member.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said they opposed the move. But they also allowed it was up to the Arab League to determine its membership.

At the same time they said their countries would not normalized relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government unless it accepts and complies with a U.N. plan to restore peace to the country after a brutal 13-year civil war.

“We do not believe that Syria merits re-admission to the Arab League,” Blinken told reporters at a joint news conference with Cleverly at the State Department.

“It’s a point we have made to all of our regional partners, but they have to make their own decisions,” Blinken said. "Our position is clear: We are not going to be in the business of normalizing relations with Assad and with that regime.”

Cleverly said the British government agreed with the U.S. stance.

“This is an occasion where the U.S. and the U.K. share very, very similar views,” he said. ”The U.K. is very uncomfortable with the re-admission of Syria in the Arab League, but as Secretary Blinken said, ultimately it is a decision for the membership of the Arab League."

“The point that I have made is that there needs to be conditionality if they choose to take this course of action,” he said. “It needs to be conditional on some fundamental changes from Damascus and the Assad regime.”

Blinken and Cleverly said any solution to the crisis in Syria must be based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which was adopted in 2015 and lays out steps, including a permanent cease-fire, humanitarian assistance and progress toward free and fair elections, measures the Arab League also backs.

"I think the Arab perspective as articulated through the Arab League is that they believe they can pursue these objectives through more direct engagement,” Blinken said. “We may have a different perspective when it comes to that, but the objectives that we have I think are the same.”

Both men said it was critical for Syria to never again become a haven for the Islamic State group, which occupied large portions of the country and neighboring Iraq before being largely driven out.

Syria was reinstated in the 22-nation Arab League on Sunday after a 12-year suspension. It was a symbolic victory for Assad, who can join the group’s May 19 summit, though Western sanctions will continue to block reconstruction funds to the war-battered country.