Jordan expels Syrian ambassador, Damascus reciprocates

Screen_Shot_2014-05-27_at_4.36.03_PM.pngNEIGHBORS: Jordan expelled Syrian Ambassador to Jordan Bahjat Suleiman Monday, labeling the diplomat “persona non grata” and giving him 24 hours to leave the kingdom. In retaliation, the Syrian government quickly ordered the departure of the Jordanian ambassador from Damascus. 

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry accused Suleiman in a statement of “repeated insults to Jordan and its leadership, institutions and citizens,” adding that he had used “the territory of the kingdom as a platform to level unfounded accusations.” The ministry did not elaborate on the accusations.

The diplomatic tangle comes just 48 hours before Syrians who left their country legally will be permitted to vote in Syrian embassies around the world in its presidential elections next Wednesday.

The Syrian embassy in Jordan will remain open for pre-election voting on Wednesday. Inside Syria, the elections, which numerous Western governments have labeled a “parody,” will take place on June 3. 

A Jordanian government spokesman attempted to downplay the diplomatic brouhaha, telling the official Al-Rai newspaper in an article published Tuesday that Suleiman’s expulsion “does not in any way mean the cutting of relations with Syria.”

“Damascus can name an ambassador at any time, and the Syrian embassy in Amman is open and working as usual,” Minister of Media Mohammed Momani told Al-Rai, refuting claims made by the Syrian National Coalition that Jordan would accept an ambassador from the opposition group.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates announced they would not allow Syrian voting to take place, joining what official Syrian news agency SANA called a “troupe of conspirators” against the elections. There are an estimated 30,000 Syrians living in the UAE, the agency estimated in a report on Tuesday

On May 12, France announced it would close its Syrian embassy in protest of Damascus’s plans to hold elections, a move that will bar Syrians residing in France from voting. Pro-regime media has since accused Germany and Belgium of “trying to disrupt the presidential elections.”

Syrian state media cited an “Arab diplomatic source” in blaming Suleiman’s expulsion from Jordan on foreign pressure.

Jordan’s actions are an attempt “to disrupt the electoral process” inside Syria and “indicate that Jordan bowed to foreign pressure” from the United States and Saudi Arabia, pro-Assad newspaper al-Watan reported Monday.

Cartoonist Nasser Jafari poked fun at the diplomatic upheaval between Syria and Jordan Tuesday in Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad, depicting the “expelled ambassador” Bahjat Suleiman on the road north into Syria, while the “expelled people” of Syria stream south into Jordan.

More than 596,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

-May 27, 2014

Photo courtesy of Kristen Gillespie: A pro-Assad demonstration outside of Syria’s embassy in Jordan.

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