Fri 14 Apr 2023 6:07 am - Jerusalem Time

Gulf and Arab countries are discussing in Saudi Arabia an end to Syria's isolation

On Friday, Saudi Arabia will host a meeting to exchange views on the return of Damascus to the Arab incubator, more than a decade after the isolation of Syria following the outbreak of the conflict there.

Several Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, cut off diplomatic relations with Damascus.

The League of Arab States suspended Syria's membership following the outbreak of protests suppressed by regime forces in 2011.

However, indications have recently begun to appear of the rapprochement of several capitals with Syria, including Abu Dhabi, which restored diplomatic relations, and Riyadh, which held talks with Damascus regarding the resumption of consular services between the two countries.

The Gulf Cooperation Council meeting 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 in 2012, about a month before the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.

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."

An Arab diplomat told AFP 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.

Another diplomat confirmed that "Saudi Arabia is completely 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."

On Thursday evening, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani considered, in a televised interview, that talk about Syria's return to the Arab League is "speculation," stressing that the reasons for suspending Damascus' membership still exist for Doha.

Gulf countries, 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 the restoration of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in recent years to some of its diplomatic position and its military control over most parts of the country.

The new diplomatic efforts come after Tehran and Riyadh announced on March 10 that they had reached an agreement between them after a seven-year estrangement following the attack on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran over the execution of Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Before an Iranian delegation visited Saudi Arabia this week, 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.

"Assad simply refused to compromise and waited for his enemies to surrender, and he succeeded," Aaron Lund, a researcher on Syria at Century International, told AFP.

He considered that this "sends to the opposition a message that Assad will eventually win and that its allies have betrayed it."


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Gulf and Arab countries are discussing in Saudi Arabia an end to Syria's isolation