RIYADH: Saudi Arabia was preparing on Thursday to host an Arab regional meeting on ending Syria’s isolation at a time of dizzying diplomatic shifts following its deal to resume relations with Iran.
Friday’s nine-nation talks in Jeddah come after Syria’s foreign minister arrived on a previously unannounced visit — the first since the outbreak of the country’s civil war in 2011.
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 Houthi 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, Qatar and its neighbour Bahrain agreed to re-establish relations, putting aside a long-running diplomatic feud.
On Friday, 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 crackdown on protests in 2011.
Syria and Saudi Arabia are moving toward reopening embassies and resuming flights between the two countries for the first time in more than a decade, the countries said Thursday in a joint statement.
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.
The two sides also discussed “the importance of enhancing security and combating terrorism in all its forms, and enhancing cooperation in combating drug smuggling and trafficking,” the statement said. Syria is a primary producer of the amphetamine-based drug Captagon, which is largely smuggled into Gulf markets for sale.
The talks also focused on “the need to support ... the Syrian state to extend its control over its territories to end the presence of armed militias and external interference in the Syrian internal affairs,” as well as on facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of Syrian refugees.
The visit to Saudi Arabia came after Syria announced Wednesday that it will reopen its embassy in Tunisia, which cut off relations in 2012.
Tunisian President Kais Saied announced earlier this month that he had directed the country’s foreign ministry to appoint a new ambassador to Syria.
His move was reciprocated by the Syrian government, a joint statement from the two countries’ foreign ministries said Wednesday, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
Although the 22-nation Arab League, which meets next month in Saudi Arabia, 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.
It was possible that Foreign Minister Mekdad would attend the meeting “to present the Syrian point of view”, another diplomat said.