Jeddah to host regional talks on Syria's return to the Arab fold on Friday

Ahram Online , AP , AFP , Thursday 13 Apr 2023

Representatives from nine Arab countries will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss their stance and moves to end the decade-long isolation of President Bashar Al-Assad, Arab diplomats said Tuesday.

Arab League meeting
File Photo: Arab League meeting at its headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on July 24, 2022. AFP


Ministers and top officials from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – along with Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will meet in Jeddah. 

On the table is Syria's suspension from the Arab League, in place since President Bashar Al-Assad's government launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Saudi Arabia, which is hosting an Arab League summit on 19 May, is a major proponent of reinstating the regime, representing a major shift from Riyadh’s previous stance.

Although the 22-nation Arab League takes decisions by consensus, unanimous agreement is unlikely, a Riyadh-based diplomat told AFP.

"The meeting aims to overcome the Gulf differences over Syria as much as possible," the diplomat said, singling out Qatar – an outspoken critic of the Assad government.

"I will not say taking a unified position because this will not happen, but 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 any vote," the diplomat added.

Spokesperson for the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs Majid Al-Ansari said that "there are many developments regarding the situation in Syria and the views of Arab countries regarding Syria's return to the Arab League."

In video a statement to local media, Al-Ansari said that Qatar, which had previously said it had no plans to normalise relations with Damascus and had spoken out against efforts by some countries to do so, had not changed its position.

He said "any change in the current (Qatar) position on Syria is mainly linked to an Arab consensus and a change on the ground that achieves the aspirations of the Syrian people."

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Saudi counterpart have discussed "the necessary steps" to end Damascus's isolation, according to a Saudi statement on Wednesday.

Ahead of the talks, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan flew to Cairo for talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Unlike some other Arab governments, Cairo never fully severed ties with Damascus during the war, but relations were downgraded.

The UAE has led the charge to bring Syria back into the Arab fold, with Sheikh Mohamed saying last month that "the time has come" for Damascus to be reintegrated into the wider region.

Syria's foreign minister arrived on Wednesday to Saudi Arabia, a previously unannounced visit – the first since the outbreak of the country's civil war in 2011. The two countries announced in a joint statement they are moving toward reopening embassies and resuming flights.

It was one in a flurry of events that were nearly unthinkable before Saudi Arabia and Iran's landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement on March 10 that they would resume ties, seven years after an acrimonious split.

On Wednesday, an Iranian delegation landed in Saudi Arabia to pave the way for reopening diplomatic missions, following a trip by a Saudi team in the opposite direction.

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen has held talks with Iran-backed Huthi rebels this week aimed at ending the devastating civil war that has raged since a Saudi-led military intervention started in 2015.

Earlier this month, the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers pledged to work together to bring "security and stability" to the troubled region during a meeting in Beijing.

And late on Wednesday, gas-rich Qatar and its tiny Gulf neighbour Bahrain agreed to re-establish relations, putting aside a long-running diplomatic feud.

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