Dubai: Saudi Arabia and Syria agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after more than a decade, sources said Thursday.
Contacts between Riyadh and Damascus had rekindled following a landmark agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume their ties and reopen their embassies.
The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus marks the most significant development in efforts by Arab countries to normalise relations with Bashar Al Assad's regime, which was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria's civil war began in 2011.
The two governments were “preparing to reopen embassies after Eid Al Fitr” in the second half of April, a second regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters.
The decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one of the regional sources and a diplomat in the Gulf.
The Saudi government’s communication office, the kingdom’s foreign ministry and the Syrian government did not respond to requests for comment.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
The apparently sudden breakthrough could indicate how the deal between Tehran and Riyadh may play into other crises in the region, where their rivalry has fuelled conflicts including the war in Syria.
The United States and several of its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had backed some of the Syrian rebels. Al Assad was able to defeat the insurgency across most of Syria thanks largely to Iran and Russia.
The United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has opposed moves by regional countries to normalise ties with Al Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution.
The Gulf diplomat said the high-ranking Syrian intelligence official “stayed for days” in Riyadh and an agreement was struck to reopen embassies “very soon”.
The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018.
One of the regional sources identified the official as Hussam Louqa, who heads Syria’s intelligence committee, and said talks included security on Syria’s border with Jordan and the smuggling of captagon, an amphetamine for which there is a thriving market in the Arab Gulf, from Syria.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 in response to Al Assad’s crackdown on protests.
Saudi’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud earlier this month said engagement with Al Assad could lead to Syria’s return to the Arab League, but it was currently too early to discuss such a step.
The diplomat said the Syrian-Saudi talks could pave the way for a vote to lift Syria’s suspension during the next Arab summit, expected to be held in Saudi Arabia in April.