Thu 13 Apr 2023 3:57 pm - Jerusalem Time

Gulf and Arab countries are discussing in Saudi Arabia on Friday the issue of ending Syria's isolation

On Friday, Saudi Arabia will host a meeting to exchange views on the return of Syria to the Arab incubator, in the midst of major regional diplomatic moves that have changed the political landscape in the region since Riyadh and Tehran agreed to resume relations last month.

The meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is being held in Jeddah, and Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are also participating in it, to discuss the issue of Syria's return to the Arab League after its membership was suspended since 2012, about a month before the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.

An Arab diplomat in Riyadh, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP on Thursday that "the purpose of the meeting is to overcome the Gulf differences over Syria as much as possible."

And Saudi Arabia received, on Wednesday, at the same time, an Iranian delegation to prepare for the reopening of Iranian diplomatic missions in the Kingdom, and the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Al-Miqdad, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict in his country.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, and his Syrian counterpart discussed "the necessary steps to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the Syrian crisis that ends all its repercussions, achieves national reconciliation, and contributes to the return of Syria to its Arab surroundings and the resumption of its natural role in the Arab world."

Following the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, several Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, severed diplomatic relations with Damascus, and the League of Arab States suspended Syria's membership.

And last month, Riyadh announced that it was in talks with Damascus regarding the resumption of consular services between the two countries.

Another Arab diplomat stated that "there is a possibility" that Al-Miqdad will attend the Jeddah meeting "to present the Syrian point of view," explaining that the participating countries have not yet received the agenda for the meeting.

The senior diplomat confirmed that "Saudi Arabia is fully leading these efforts, but under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council."

He stated that "the Saudis are trying at least to ensure that Qatar does not object to Syria's return to the Arab League if the issue is put to a vote," noting that he does not expect a unified position on this issue.

Announcing Doha's participation in the meeting, Majid al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday that the change in the Qatari position on Syria "is mainly linked to the Arab consensus and to a field change that achieves the aspirations of the Syrian people."

Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, provided financial and military support to the Syrian opposition factions, before the support gradually declined over the past years.

In February 2022, Doha hosted a symposium aimed at "improving the performance of the Syrian opposition" in the face of President Bashar al-Assad's regime's restoration in recent years of some of its diplomatic position and military control of most parts of the country.

Recently, regional efforts are being made to end Syria's isolation. In the past two months, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Oman and the UAE, the only two Arab countries that Assad has visited since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

Before the Iranian delegation visited Saudi Arabia, a Saudi delegation visited Tehran on Saturday to discuss mechanisms for reopening the Kingdom's diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic.

The foreign ministers of the two most important regional powers in the Gulf met in Beijing last week, following the sudden announcement of an agreement to resume relations between the two countries under Chinese auspices last month.

On March 10, Tehran and Riyadh announced that they had reached the agreement after a seven-year estrangement, following the attack on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran over the execution of Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Observers hope that the agreement will contribute to the calm in Yemen, where the two countries have been waging a proxy war since 2015. This may also apply to other countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, where Iran is more present than ever before.

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi is expected to visit Riyadh after receiving an invitation from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, while the Saudis held talks with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels this week to end the war in Yemen.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition in support of the internationally recognized government in the face of the Houthis, after they took control of Sana'a and large areas of the country, and a prisoner exchange process is expected to begin on Friday between the two parties, according to a Yemeni official on Wednesday.


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Gulf and Arab countries are discussing in Saudi Arabia on Friday the issue of ending Syria's isolation