August 2, 2018 / 6:37 PM / 12 days ago

Jordan says not yet ready to open border crossing with Syria

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan will reopen its border with Syria only when it is ready, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Thursday, in a signal that Amman could delay a decision that would boost President Bashar al Assad.

Billions of dollars in annual trade with Europe and the Gulf moved through the Syrian-Jordanian Nassib crossing until fighting erupted in 2011. It was captured by rebels in 2015 and its closure hurt the economy of Syria and neighbouring states.

Damascus said this week the road was ready for use but Safadi said he had received no request to reopen it.

“We will deal with the request with all positiveness that serves our interests,” he told a news conference with visiting French Foreign Minster Jean-Yves Le Drian. “Matters have to stabilize,” he said.

Safadi said he discussed reopening the crossing with Moscow. The crossing’s recapture by Syrian forces was a central goal of a campaign launched last June by the government and Russian forces to regain control of rebel-held parts of the southwest.

Russia is a crucial backer of Assad and Russian bombing was central to a campaign by Assad that forced the mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels once backed by Jordan and Assad’s Western and Arab foes to surrender.

“Jordan in principle wants open borders with all its neighbours.. But when and how (Nassib opening) this will depend on when we ensure our interests and our security,” he added.

Jordan is a U.S. ally but Moscow wanted Amman to persuade rebels before it was retaken by government forces last month to cede control of the crossing to consolidate an accord between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last year to set up a de-escalation zone.

Washington’s decision not to intervene during the southwest campaign wrecked the accord and gave the Russians the greenlight to crush rebels in the southwest, diplomats say.

They say Amman now wants Russian guarantees to help restore stability in the sensitive southern border area where officials say a spillover of violence and radicalism poses a threat.

Before reopening the crossing, it also wants Russian military police to play a bigger role in protecting displaced civilians who want to return to areas recently won back by Syria’s army and to repel a threat from Iranian militias.

“For Russia and the regime opening the crossing will deliver a big psychological boost. They want to show everything is now quickly being normalised and the war is nearing its end,” said another diplomatic source familiar with the discussions.

Syria’s army has recovered control of most of the country, helped by Iranian-backed militias and Russian aerial bombs.

This year, they defeated insurgents in the last remaining enclaves near the cities of Homs and Damascus, swept through the southwest and regained the border with Israel and Jordan.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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