Syria's President Assad is fast "coming in from the cold" a recent AFP headline concluded. This not unlike the history of Libya's Gaddafi, suddenly going from international pariah status to being courted by the Bush administration starting in 2004, culminating in Condoleezza Rice sharing a late night dinner with the late Libyan dictator during an official visit in September 2008 (though later returning to "pariah" in 2011, leading to a bloody field execution). But for Assad, who's long long promised to "liberate every inch" of natural Syria — now a greater possibility given US plans to pull all troops out of the country likely within months — things could be moving faster than anyone expected.
An exclusive report by Middle East news site, Al Masdar, suggests the UK could be the next to reestablish official diplomatic relations with Assad, as the British Embassy in Damascus appears to be undergoing construction after being shuttered for most of the conflict following the suspension of all services in 2012. Could Britain be readying to reopen its embassy in Syria following similar preparations by a spate of Arab nations, most notably the UAE?
Al Masdar News was able to confirm the following by visiting the British embassy location in Damascus:
The British Embassy in Damascus is undergoing construction, despite the fact that it was closed at the start of the Syrian conflict.
According to an Al-Masdar field correspondent who visited the site, the British Embassy in Damascus was indeed under construction, marking the first time since its closure that any work has been done to the building.
Syrian government officials, who would be kept apprised of any impending plans or construction works, declined to comment:
Al-Masdar reached out to the Syrian government about the mysterious construction; however, the official in Damascus declined to comment on the project.
The project reportedly began earlier this week and the construction focused on the front entrance of the building.
Iranian media is also currently circulating reports of renovations underway on the UK's embassy to Syria, via Fars News:
The Arabic-language Rai al-Youm quoted informed sources as saying that the renovation process of the UK embassy in Damascus has begun on Thursday.
The sources pointed to the presence of an interior renovation team in Damascus, and said that the embassy is preparing for reopening in the near future.
In a relevant development in late December, as Arab states had rushed to resume ties with Damascus, former Britain's Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford said "Washington is not powerful enough to block restoration of Arab states' diplomatic relations" with Syria.
Crucially, news of construction on the embassy building comes the same day UK's Foreign Ministry has announced it's officially given up on hoped-for regime change in Syria. From the start of the war UK intelligence has been at the forefront, alongside the CIA, of regime change efforts including funding, arming, and training opposition forces in Syria.
According to The Telegraph, citing official statements:
Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Minister, has conceded that President Bashar al-Assad will remain in place for "a while", reversing Britain's long-held position to reflect the new reality on the ground in Syria.
"The British long-standing position is that we won't have lasting peace in Syria with that (Assad-led) regime," Mr Hunt said. "But regretfully we do think he's going to be around for a while and that is because of the support that he's had from Russia."
The foreign minister further said in a television interview with Sky News, "Russia may think that it's gained a sphere of influence. What we would say to them is: Yes - and you've also gained a responsibility.”
Hunt called on Russia to ensure no chemical weapons are used, something the West has long accused Assad of: "If you're going to be involved in Syria then you need to make sure that there really is peace in Syria," Hunt said. "And that means making sure that President Assad does not use chemical weapons on his own people."
Thus it appears Assad's "normalization" with both Arab and increasingly even Western countries who were a short time ago enemies is moving fast.
First, a week ago the embassy of the United Arab Emirates was formally re-opened in a ceremony in Damascus - the first time a Gulf country re-established official relations with the Assad government since all GCC states first shuttered their embassies there in 2012. And more significant, following this Gulf nations are now reportedly leading efforts to readmit Syria into the Arab League after the organization expelled Damascus eight years ago when the conflict first began.
Should the British embassy in Damascus indeed announce that it will open in the coming months, this will mark the beginning of Assad's acceptance once again by the West, and would further likely green light a Syrian and Russian attack on Idlib — which is the last large al-Qaeda bastion in the country.