Al-Mekdad with Shoukri (photo: AFP)
Less than a week after the five-member Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee on Syria convened in Cairo, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri discussed the outcomes of the meeting in a phone call with Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria. Shoukri stressed to Pedersen the committee’s commitment to reaching a settlement to the Syrian crisis that preserves the unity and stability of the Syrian state.
Following the meeting the Liaison Committee, which was attended by Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit, Shoukri and the Saudi, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Lebanese foreign ministers, expressed its hope that a constitutional path towards a political solution would soon be resumed, with members agreeing that the Syrian Constitutional Committee should meet in Oman before the end of this year.
Abul-Gheit described the meeting as “serious and constructive”.
That the meeting convened in Cairo crowns Egypt’s efforts to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The Liaison Committee meeting reflects the seriousness of Arab countries in tackling the dangerous repercussions of the Syrian crisis, including drug smuggling and humanitarian issues,” he added.
Regular contacts between Shoukri and Pedersen, who will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting next month, reflect the importance Cairo and Washington attach to continuous consultation and coordination in resolving the Syrian crisis. Their last meeting was in May in Geneva, during which they underlined their commitment to consolidating efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.
The Arab League Summit in Amman in May mandated the Liaison Committee to pursue Arab efforts to draw a roadmap to end the Syrian crisis. The committee was formed following Syria’s reinstatement to the Arab League, ending a 12-year suspension. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad then attended the Arab League Summit in Jeddah.
The liaison meeting, said the diplomat, highlighted the importance of creating a platform to register the names of refugees seeking to return to Syria in coordination with host countries and relevant United Nations bodies. “Questions addressed included whether refugees are willing to return now or when the crisis is finally settled, and whether Syria, after more than a decade of civil war, is capable of receiving them,” he said.
In Cairo, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Mekdad held one-to-one talks with Shoukri and his Jordanian and Saudi counterparts on the sidelines of the Liaison Committee meeting, and a meeting with all five member states of the committee and Abul-Gheit. A final statement issued after the meeting said Al-Mekdad had briefed ministers on the Syrian government’s efforts to encourage refugees to return home, determine the fate of missing citizens and revive the economy.
Earlier this month, Al-Assad received an Arab National Congress delegation headed by Egyptian opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahi. The delegation discussed ways to “support Syria in the face of sanctions and the unjust siege” according to a statement issued after the meeting.
Syria’s relations with Egypt, strained for a decade, began to ease when Shoukri paid an official visit to Damascus in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquake.
In April, Al-Mekdad arrived in Cairo for the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister in more than 10 years.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 24 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly