Saudi Arabia hosts a meeting of foreign ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to discuss Syria crisis in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 14, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

RIYADH: Diplomats meeting in Saudi Arabia agreed on Saturday that the Arab world must play a leading role in efforts to broker a solution to Syria’s war, following talks aimed at easing Damascus’s isolation.

Top diplomats from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan met in Saudi Arabia at the kingdom’s request.

They stressed the “importance of having an Arab leadership role in efforts to end the crisis”, according to a statement released by the Saudi foreign ministry early Saturday.

They also discussed “the necessary mechanisms for this role” and agreed to intensify “consultations among Arab countries to ensure the success of these efforts”.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 over Bashar Al Assad’s crackdown of pro-democracy protests.

But on Wednesday, in the latest sign of an easing in tensions with Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrived in Jeddah, the first such visit since the war began.

Mekdad and his Saudi counterpart discussed “the necessary steps” to end Damascus’s isolation, according to a Saudi statement on Wednesday.

And following the latest foreign minister meeting, top Arab diplomats “agreed on the importance of resolving the humanitarian crisis” in Syria and securing conditions that would allow for refugee returns, the Saudi foreign ministry said Saturday.

Flurry of initiatives

Syria’s rehabilitation sends “a message to the opposition that Assad will triumph in the end and that their foreign backers will betray them”, Aron Lund of the Century International think tank told AFP earlier before Saudi Arabia’s statement.

The Jeddah meeting is one of a flurry of initiatives following Saudi Arabia and Iran’s landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement on March 10 that they would resume ties.

On Friday, an exchange of nearly 900 prisoners from Yemen’s civil war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition got under way when flights carrying captives travelled between rebel- and government-controlled areas.

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

And late on Wednesday, Qatar and Bahrain agreed to re-establish relations, putting aside a long-running diplomatic feud.