(Riyadh) Saudi Arabia is preparing to host a regional meeting on Thursday to discuss relations with Syria, as the historic reconciliation between Riyadh and Tehran under the auspices of Beijing redistributes the cards in the Middle East.

The meeting is to be held Friday in Jeddah, in the west of the kingdom, and bring together the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) Egypt, the Iraq and Jordan.

Sign of the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, an Iranian delegation arrived in the kingdom on Wednesday to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic missions.

At the same time, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad was received by his Saudi counterpart Faisal ben Farhane, for the first such visit since the start of the war in Syria in 2011.

The two ministers discussed “the necessary steps to achieve a full political settlement of the Syrian crisis”, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.

The objective is to achieve “a national reconciliation […] to bring Syria back into the Arab fold and to resume its natural role in the Arab world”, adds the text.

Damascus had been diplomatically isolated since the 2011 crackdown on a popular uprising that sparked a devastating conflict that has taken on a more complex dimension over the years, with the intervention of several countries and foreign armed groups.

But more and more Arab countries are now in favor of a return of Syria to the Arab League, from which it was suspended at the end of 2011, like the United Arab Emirates, while the next summit of the pan-Arab organization is planned. May 19 in the kingdom.

Friday’s meeting will focus on exchanging views on “ Syria’s return to the Arab League”, Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said on Tuesday.

It “aims to overcome as much as possible the Gulf differences over Syria”, an Arab diplomat in Riyadh told AFP.

“The Saudis are at least trying to ensure that Qatar will not oppose Syria’s return to the Arab League,” he added.

“ It is possible that Faisal Moqdad will attend the meeting ”, said another Arab diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Riyadh and Tehran reached an agreement in March, brokered by China, for a resumption of their relations. They should reopen their embassies by mid-May and implement economic and security cooperation agreements signed more than 20 years ago.

These two Middle Eastern heavyweights had severed their ties in 2016 after the attack on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran by demonstrators who denounced the execution in Saudi Arabia of a Shiite cleric.

On Saturday, a Saudi diplomatic delegation traveled to Tehran to discuss the reopening of the kingdom’s diplomatic representation in the Islamic Republic.

Last week, the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Faisal bin Farhane, discussed in Beijing the implementation of normalization.

This rapprochement should be formally sealed during a visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Riyadh, at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, a trip planned after Ramadan, at the end of April.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the two countries have maintained an enmity which has been characterized by often opposing positions on regional issues, sometimes supporting rival camps such as in Syria, Lebanon or Yemen.

Their rapprochement could well change the regional situation, especially in Yemen at war, where Iran supports the Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia is at the head of a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government.

A massive exchange of prisoners is due to begin on Friday between the two camps, according to a Yemeni government official.

Relations between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, strained for decades by a struggle for influence in the region, have begun to ease since the two countries agreed in March to restore their severed ties in 2016.

After the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in April 1979, Sunni countries accused Iran of wanting to “export” its revolution to them.

In 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, triggering a deadly eight-year war in which Saudi Arabia financially supported the Iraqi regime.

In 1987, security forces in Mecca, Saudi Arabia suppress an unauthorized anti-American demonstration organized by Iranian pilgrims. More than 400 people, mostly Iranians, are killed.

Angry Iranians looted the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, and in 1988 Riyadh severed diplomatic relations until 1991.

As Arab Spring protests hit the region in 2011, Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of stoking tensions.

The two countries clash again in 2012 in Syria. Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia backs the rebels.

In Yemen, Riyadh formed a Sunni Arab coalition in favor of the Yemeni president in 2015, while Tehran supports the Houthi Shiite rebels.

A stampede during the great annual pilgrimage to Mecca in 2015 killed around 2,300 foreign pilgrims, including hundreds of Iranians.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Saudi Arabia does not deserve to run Islam’s holiest sites.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, one of the spearheads of anti-government protests, for “terrorism”.

Furious, protesters attack Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. Riyadh again breaks its relations with Tehran.

The powerful Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, was classified as “ terrorist ” in 2016 by the Arab monarchies of the Gulf.

In 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh, citing Iran’s “hold” over his country through Hezbollah. He will later retract.

In 2018, the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, warned in an interview on American television that if Tehran acquires nuclear weapons, “ we will do the same as soon as possible ”.

The Crown Prince describes the Iranian Supreme Leader as “the new Hitler”. “ He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, a bit like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time ”, he says.

On March 10, 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed, under the aegis of China, to resume their diplomatic relations and to reopen their embassies by mid-May.

On the 19th, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi receives an invitation from King Salman to go to Riyadh. The trip is planned after Ramadan, at the end of April.

In the meantime, the Iranian and Saudi Foreign Ministers, during a meeting on April 6 in Beijing, agree to work together for “ security, stability and prosperity ” in the Middle East. Saudi and Iranian delegations visit the two capitals in the following days.

It is in this context that hopes for peace are growing in Yemen, where an exchange of hundreds of prisoners is being prepared, and that a Syrian minister, an ally of Tehran, is being welcomed in Riyadh for the first time since the start of the war. in Syria.