Saturday, June 3, 2023

Syria’s return to Arab League ‘very likely’: Secretary General

Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said there is a very high chance for restoration of Syria’s membership in the 22-member regional organization as a founding member during the next Arab summit in Saudi Arabia later this month.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Arabic-language Asharq News, Aboul Gheit underscored that Syria’s return to the Arab League is “very likely” as heads of Arab states would come together in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh on May 19.

He noted Syria’s return to the Arab League will take place gradually and step by step.

The 80-year-old Egyptian politician and diplomat added that a series of meetings will be held initially to assess the process, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be invited to the Arab League summit in Riyadh once member states reach a consensus on the matter.

According to the contacts made and the actions taken, Aboul Gheit underlined, there is a really very high chance that the Arab League would restore Syria’s membership at the Riyadh meeting, unless something unexpected happens.

Earlier this week, a group of Arab foreign ministers met with their Syrian counterpart in Jordan to discuss how to normalize diplomatic ties with Damascus and bring the country back to the Arab fold.

The Monday meeting was part of a Jordanian proposal to reach a political solution to more-than-a-decade-old Syrian conflict.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan and his Egyptian and Iraqi counterparts, Sameh Shoukry and Fuad Hussein, traveled to Amman on Monday for the meeting with Syria’s Faisal Mekdad.

A spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said the meeting came as a follow-up to talks in Saudi Arabia last month between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

The spokesman added that those countries aimed to build on their contacts with the Syrian government and discuss a “Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis.”

At the Jeddah meeting, there was resistance to the move to invite Assad to the May 19 Arab League summit, with Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait saying it was premature before Damascus agrees to negotiate a peace plan.

Jordan has called on Damascus to engage with Arab states on a roadmap to end the conflict, and tackle such issues as refugees and drug smuggling across the war-ravaged country’s borders.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia — which once backed Takfiri militant groups in Syria — has reversed its stance on the Syrian government and is pushing its neighbors to follow suit.

The Saudi foreign minister visited Damascus last month for the first time since the kingdom cut ties with Syria more than a decade ago.

Saudi Arabia has said, after its rapprochement with Iran, a new approach was needed towards Damascus, which is under Western sanctions.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011, citing an alleged crackdown by Damascus on opposition protests. Syria has denounced the move as “illegal and a violation of the organization’s charter.”

Syria was one of the six founding members of the Arab League in 1945. In recent months, an increasing number of countries and political parties have called for the reversal of its suspension from the Arab League.

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