In a rare example of dialogue between officials of the Syrian Arab Republic and officials in the USA, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, President Assad’s media adviser, will be speaking at a conference at the National Press Club in the United States, hosted by the ‘Global Alliance for Terminating ISIS/Al-Qaeda’ group. Dr. Shaaban is blacklisted by the U.S. and appears on a sanctions list – as such, she will be participating in the conference via Skype.
Whilst Dr. Shaaban does sometimes appear as an interviewee in Western news coverage of the Syrian civil war, this conference offers the chance for a more serious engagement between the Syrian government and American politicians, as the group hosting the conference aims to “establish a common ground for unity among nations and governments around the world to terminate these evil terrorist organizations.”
Nevertheless, through a number of statements, the U.S. state department has made it clear that their position on Dr. Shaaban has not changed. Most recently, the state department spokesperson, John Kirby (whose job it is to repackage and present U.S. policy to the public), called Dr. Shaaban a “propaganda mouthpiece for the Assad regime.”
The coming weeks are likely to reveal more on the extent to which U.S. policy in Syria has changed. There does appear to have been a marked shift from backing Al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, such as Ahrar-Al-Sham, to backing the secular Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which have co-operated with the Syrian government on several fronts and are currently focusing their resources against ISIS (both the Syrian Army and the SDF are advancing into the Raqqa province, from the south-west and north-east respectively).
It is possible that these developments will necessitate a greater degree of co-ordination, if not co-operation, between the Syrian govt. and American forces in the region. Though this was completely unthinkable just a few months ago, so was the invitation of a Syrian politician to such a conference in the United States.