Amid thawing relations between the Syrian government and the Arab world, the United Kingdom has denied reports it intends to reopen its embassy in Damascus.
After the UAE and Bahrain announced last month they would reopen their missions in Damascus, speculation has swirled over which other states might resume ties with President Bashar Al Assad, who has emerged all but victorious from the country’s devastating seven year civil war.
On January 6, Russian state media outlets reported an unnamed source claiming British foreign service workers had visited the former embassy building in Damascus to oversee renovations ahead of its reopening.
But on Monday, the UK’s special representative for Syria, Martin Longden, said the British government has “no plans” to reopen it.
“The Asad regime lost its legitimacy due to its atrocities against the Syrian people," he wrote on Twitter. “We therefore closed the British Embassy in Damascus in 2012. We have no plans to reopen it. End of story.”
Despite Mr Longden’s comments, after long-insisting that Assad must step down, the UK appears to have accepted that he has won the war. Last week, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Syrian president will remain in power “for a while”.
Mr Hunt's views stand in contrast with the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who in 2017 described Assad as a “monster” who needed “decapitating”.
The Sunday Telegraph quoted a British diplomat making an impromptu comment about his next potential posting being in Damascus. "Give it a year or two and you can bet we'll be reopening our embassy," the unnamed official reportedly said on Saturday.
In December, the UAE announced it was reopening its embassy in Damascus after a six year absence.
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the decision came after a “careful reading of developments”.
Engagement with Syria was necessary to combat the influence of Turkey and Iran, he said on Twitter. “The UAE is working to activate this role through its presence in Damascus.”
Bahrain followed suit shortly afterwards, signalling a broader thaw in relations between Arab world and the Assad regime, which it has long treated as a pariah.
In October, the Syrian leader told a Kuwaiti newspaper – in his first interview with a Gulf publication since the war began – that he had reached a major agreement with Arab states to resume relations.