(Damascus) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received on Tuesday the head of Saudi diplomacy, whose visit to Damascus for the first time since the start of the war in 2011 confirms the normalization of relations between the oil monarchy and Syria.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhane arrived at Damascus International Airport and was received by the head of state shortly after, the official Sana news agency reported.
This visit is motivated by the kingdom’s “concern to reach a political solution to the crisis in Syria […]”, which could “bring it back to its Arab environment”, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The visit of the Saudi minister comes a week after that of his Syrian counterpart Faisal Moqdad to Saudi Arabia, also the first since the start of the war.
Damascus had been diplomatically isolated since the 2011 crackdown on a popular uprising that escalated into conflict.
But after the February earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria, the kingdom made a first gesture by sending humanitarian aid.
In March, Syria and Saudi Arabia had discussions on resuming their consular services and on April 12, Mr. Moqdad made an unannounced visit to Jeddah (west of the kingdom).
In a joint statement, the Syrian and Saudi foreign ministers then spoke of the objective of “bringing Syria back into the Arab fold”.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview last month that Saudi Arabia had “taken a different turn in recent years”, and that Syria was no longer “a Saudi-Iranian battleground”.
The Syrian-Saudi reconciliation comes in a context of easing tensions between the oil kingdom and its great regional rival, Iran, which supports the Damascus regime politically, militarily and economically.
The two countries pledged to work together for “the security and stability of the region”.
Bashar al-Assad is betting on full normalization with the wealthy Gulf monarchies to finance the reconstruction of his country’s infrastructure ravaged by war.
The conflict claimed around half a million lives. Nearly half of Syrians are now refugees or internally displaced, and swaths of territory still escape government control.
But the question of a return of Syria to the Arab fold is not unanimous, especially among the Gulf monarchies.
Qatar, which has supported the Syrian opposition, remains hostile to normalization with Bashar al-Assad, while other countries such as the United Arab Emirates have normalized their relations with Damascus.
Saudi Arabia last week hosted a meeting of nine Arab countries – the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan – to discuss Syria’s possible return to the fold. from the Arab League, from which it was expelled in 2012, before its next summit was held on May 19 in the kingdom.
But no decision was taken at the meeting, with the nine countries merely saying they had discussed the importance of Arab countries “playing a leading role in initiatives to end the crisis” by Syria.
President Assad said last month that the main thing for him was to restore “good bilateral relations” with Arab countries, before a possible return to the Arab League.
Mr. Moqdad has also visited Algeria and then Tunisia in recent days.