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    Jordan Will Not Take Over or Monitor al-Tanf Base After US Withdrawal - FM

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    DAVOS (Sputnik) - Jordan is not going to take over or monitor the US military base in the eastern Syrian al-Tanf area, located on the country's border with Jordan, after Washington withdraws troops from Syria, since the facility is situated outside Jordan, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Sputnik in an interview.

    "No, al-Tanf area is inside Syria," Safadi said when asked if it was possible that the base would be handed over to Jordan after the US troop withdrawal.

    The foreign minister of Jordan stressed that Amman hoped that the three countries would instead hold trilateral talks to take necessary measures to ensure security in the area.

    READ MORE: US Considers Keeping Troops at al-Tanf, Syria to Counter Iran Amid Exit — Report

    "Jordan will protect its borders but will not cross into Syrian territory. What we are hoping for is again to have a trilateral discussion that will agree on arrangements that will ensure security on the other side of the border," the foreign minister added.

    When asked whether Jordan might be invited to monitor the military base after the US troops leave, Safadi said "no" as well.

    "Al-Tanf is on the other side of the Jordanian border. As I said, Jordan will not cross its border. We will take every measure we have to protect our security. We will eliminate any threat to our security. But arrangements on the other side of the border after withdrawal will have to be agreed by all parties, and they have to ensure the safety and security in the area," the Jordanian foreign minister said.

    Rukban Refugee Camp

    Jordan hopes that the UN humanitarian convoy will reach Rukban refugee camp, located on the Syrian-Jordan border, soon and continues talks with Moscow and Washington on ways to permanently dismantle the camp, Safadi stressed.

    "The discussions over allowing the second humanitarian convoy to Rukban from inside Syria have been going on for some time. We are hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon so that the needs of the residents of the camp are met. We understand there has been some progress and we hope the convoy will be arranged soon," Safadi said.

    The foreign minister stressed, however, that despite the importance of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the camp it the establishment of the facility was just a temporary measure and it should be permanently dismantled.

    "That said, however, I think the focus should not be just on providing humanitarian supplies that will only offer a temporary solution. The answer to this problem is and should be the de-establishment of the camp through agreements that would allow for the residents of Rukban to go back to their villages, cities and towns," the minister said.

    Safadi said that Jordan was pursuing negotiations both with Russia and the United States — as the camp is situated within the US-controlled zone surrounding its military base in the al-Tanf area — on the details of the potential dismantlement of the facility.

    "We are in discussions with the Russians and the Americans on the modalities of achieving that as soon as possible. … Similar conversations have taken place in the past through the Amman monitoring center. So we are working to have the meetings happen there … What we are working on now is to make sure that those meetings continue with a view to ensuring a quick agreement on steps to have these IDPs [internally displaced people] go back to their homes," Safadi said.

    READ MORE: Situation Around Rukban Refugee Camp in Syria Deadlocked Due to US Actions

    The foreign minister noted that the camp also posed a threat to Jordan's security, pointing out to several attacks that had been carried out just outside the camp and resulted in the death of several Jordanian security personnel over past years.

    "Rukban is a national security threat to Jordan. Terrorist operations that were planned in, and executed out of Rukban, killed Jordanian soldiers in the past," Safadi concluded.

    In November 2018, the camp received its first package of aid since January, after a UN humanitarian convoy traveled from Damascus to Rukban camp under the escort of the Russian military. Since December, the United Nations has been considering sending another humanitarian convoy to the facility, but only if the US staff is guaranteed safe passage.

    White Helmets Members Jordan

    Around 40 members of the White Helmets non-governmental organization who had been evacuated from Syria last year to be relocated to Western countries are still in Jordan, the country's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi said.

    "We agreed a few months ago to allow about 422 Syrians to enter Jordan on transit basis after some Western countries made binding written commitments they would relocate them out of The Kingdom. Thus far, the great majority of these have been relocated to different countries. There is a very small number, about 42, whose relocation processes have yet to be completed. We are in agreement with the countries who had asked us to allow them in that they have to accelerate this process," Safadi said when asked whether there were still any White Helmets remaining in the country.

    READ MORE: White Helmets Engaged in Looting, Human Organ Trafficking in Syria — Watchdog

    The minister stressed that Jordan would not allow the remaining White Helmets to stay because Amman allowed them into the country only as a temporary measure after being promised that they would be transferred to other states.

    "From the very beginning, we said that we will not accept them as refugees. We said they will not stay in Jordan. We said we would only allow them to pass through Jordan until their relocation process is completed. And that is what will happen," Safadi added.

    Members of the Syrian Civil Defense run to help survivors from a street that attacked by airstrikes and shelling of the Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, suburb of Damascus, Syria
    © AP Photo / Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets
    The White Helmets claims to be a group of volunteer rescue workers, who allegedly carry out rescue operations in Syria and help local residents prepare for attacks. However, the group has faced severe criticism on the part of both Syria itself and Russia, which accuse the Western-backed NGO of supporting terrorists and staging provocations involving chemical weapons, aimed at justifying potential foreign interventions in Syria.

    Last July, hundreds of White Helmets and their family members were evacuated by Israel from Syria due to an "immediate threat to their lives." Amman said back then that it had granted passage to the group after Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom promised that they would take in its members.

    Jordan to Resume Flights to Syria

    Speaking about airlines flights to Syria, Ayman Safadi said that Jordan will give its airlines the green light to resume flights to Syria once the country's technical experts conclude that Syrian authorities can guarantee the necessary level of safety to the aircraft.

    READ MORE: Jordan Ready to Reopen Border With Syria — Foreign Minister

    "The decision to stop Jordanian aircraft from flying over Syrian airspace was made on basis of security assessment. There was a technical team in Syria a few days ago. If this civil aviation team is satisfied that there is no threat to the security of flights, the concerned authorities in the two countries will then discuss the possibility of resumption of such flights over Syrian airspace. From our side, of course, the decision will depend on being certain that safety is guaranteed," Safadi said.

    The foreign minister stressed that the decision whether to resume the flights or not would be purely technical and the two sides would engage in negotiations on the resumption of flights as soon as the experts give their verdict.

    "So it's a technical discussion. Once security assessment is completed, and concerned officials are satisfied that there is no security risk, the two sides will address arrangements and discuss necessary agreements to resume flights," the minister added.

    On Thursday, a team of technical experts from Jordan's Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission went to Damascus to examine issues related to the resumption of flights to Syria by Jordanian airlines.

    Royal Jordanian Airlines suspended daily flights to Syria's Damascus and the city of Aleppo in 2012 following the escalation of the civil war in the country. As of now, however, the conflict seems to be nearing its end as the Syrian government forces have won back vast territories previously held by militants and terrorist groups.

    Syrian-Jordan Relations

    The appointment of an acting charge d'affaires to the Jordanian diplomatic mission in Damascus is a step in line with the country's efforts aimed at putting an end the Syrian crisis, Safadi said.

    "We… always said there must be an Arab role in efforts to bring about a political solution to the [Syrian] crisis. Having a deputy chief of mission in Damascus is consistent with this position. We want the crisis in Syria to end and we will continue to do all we can to help achieve that. Ending the crisis is in the interest of all," the foreign minister said.

    Safadi also noted that Amman never closed its diplomatic mission in the Syrian capital despite the conflict and had to temporarily close the border with Syria at one point only when Damascus lost control over it.

    READ MORE: Jordanian Opposition Politician Calls for Apology to Syria

    "We never closed our embassy in Damascus. Nor did we close the borders with Syria. The borders closure was a result of the Syrian government losing control of them. When the Syrian government resumed control, we opened the border. We appointed a deputy chief of mission in light of developments and to ensure sufficient diplomatic channels of communications and to address ties. In light of opening the border, the embassy has to have necessary resources it needs to handle increased volume of work and look after the interests of our citizens as well," the top diplomat added.

    On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry announced that Amman had appointed a diplomat to its embassy in Damascus, where Jordan had not had an ambassador since 2012. Both countries, however, kept their diplomatic missions open throughout the war.

    Last October, a vital checkpoint on the Syrian-Jordanian border — the Nassib crossing, which allows goods to be transported from Turkey and Lebanon to the countries of the Persian Gulf through Syria and Jordan and vice versa — was reopened. The border crossing was captured by terrorists in 2015, and the Syrian government did not regain control over the checkpoint until July 2018.

    While Jordan kept its diplomatic mission in Syria open over the course of the armed conflict even after recalling its ambassador, the two country's relations strained in 2014 after Amman expelled then-Syrian Ambassador Bahjat Suleiman for violating diplomatic protocol and insulting Jordan. Damascus, in turn, expelled Jordanian charge d'affaires who was heading the country's diplomatic mission in Damascus in the absence of an ambassador.

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    relocation, White Helmets, Ayman Safadi, Syria, Jordan
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