Saturday, May 18, 2024

Saudi FM meets with Syrian President Assad in first Damascus visit since war

Syrian President Bashar al- Assad has met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Damascus in the most significant step yet towards ending Syria’s decade-long regional isolation.

Prince Faisal landed in Damascus on Tuesday, Syrian state media reported, a week after his Syrian counterpart visited Riyadh.

The visit is the first by a Saudi official to Syria’s capital since the start of the war in 2011.

The Saudi foreign ministry said in an online statement that the visit showed the kingdom’s desire to find a political solution to Syria’s conflict that would preserve the country’s “Arab identity, and return it to its Arab surroundings”.

Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the conflict began, but a flurry of diplomatic activity has been under way in the past week as regional relations shift following a decision by Saudi Arabia and Damascus’s ally Iran to resume ties.

The trip comes less than a week after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, also on the first such visit since the conflict began.

Last week, diplomats from nine Arab countries met in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss ending Syria’s long spell in the diplomatic wilderness and its possible return to the 22-member Arab League after Damascus was suspended in 2011.

The diplomats stressed the “importance of having an Arab leadership role in efforts to end the crisis” in Syria, according to a statement by the Saudi foreign ministry, but media reports indicate that several countries are still holding out against Syria’s return to the Arab League.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Assad’s government in 2012 and Riyadh had long openly championed Assad’s ouster, backing Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war.

Several other Arab countries also cut ties with Syria as some powers bet on Assad’s demise.

But regional capitals have gradually been warming to Assad as he has clawed back most of the territory lost to rivals, with crucial backing from Russia and Iran.

The United Arab Emirates, which re-established ties in late 2018, has been leading the charge to reintegrate Damascus into the Arab fold.

In March, Saudi state media had said that Riyadh and Damascus were in talks about resuming consular services.

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