By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan and Syria held their first technical talks on opening a major border crossing in southern Syria that was recaptured from the opposition last July, a Jordanian official source said on Thursday.
Damascus, which took back the crossing from the opposition, hopes to reopen the Nassib route vital to its hopes of reviving Syria’s shattered economy and rebuilding in territory under its control.
Amman also hopes the opening of the border crossing will reactivate billions of dollars of annual transit trade between Europe and Gulf markets across Syria.
The source told Reuters the meeting that was requested by Syria was held on Wednesday at the Jaber crossing, on the Jordanian side of the border, where technical teams began talks on the practical arrangements from customs to security needed to reopen the crossing.
“The meetings will continue to put a complete view of all the arrangements linked to reopening the crossings in the coming period,” the source said.
The crossing’s recapture by Syrian forces in July was one main goal of a Russian-backed military campaign launched last June to regain control of rebel-held parts of the southwest.
Western diplomatic sources say Russia had been pressing Amman to open the crossing as part of a drive to show the war was drawing to a close and to help rehabilitate President Bashar al Assad. Many Western and Arab countries have not restored ties with Assad and blame him for the civil war.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi last month said the country wants to open its borders with Syria but was waiting for a formal Syrian request to begin discussions.
Another Jordanian official said the crossing could open by the end of this year.
Diplomatic sources say the opening would not signify a thaw in political ties, as the two countries’ foreign policies diverge over the Middle East peace process and the role of Iran in the region.
Jordan is a staunch US ally and supports Washington and its Arab Gulf state allies in their tough stance towards Iran.
The closure of the crossing has also weighted on Lebanese exporters who used it to export hundreds of millions of dollars of produce and goods to lucrative Gulf markets.
Jordan’s private sector is also hoping for a revival in bilateral trade with a major neighbouring market where Jordanian business have long-standing ties.
Syria’s army has regained control of most of the country, helped by Iranian-backed militias and Russian aerial bombs.
With Russian air power, government forces have this year defeated the armed opposition in the last remaining enclaves near the cities of Homs and Damascus, and swept through the rebel-held southwest.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Hugh Lawson)