Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan travelled to Damascus this week. This is a major move by Saudi Arabia, one of several recent high level meetings with the Syrian regime that are designed to normalize the regime’s ties with the region after a decade of war.
"President Bashar al-Assad meets Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan," Syria's official news agency SANA said on Tuesday. Syria’s foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, also visited Riyadh last week. Mekdad was also in Tunisia this week.
Saudi Arabia is leading several diplomatic initiatives in the region. It has reconciled with Iran and is seeking to end the Yemen war. It also recently hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham before he came to Israel and is hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Riyadh is positioning itself as a major diplomatic player in the region after years in which it saw its influence eroded and there were tensions with Iran, Qatar and others.
What does Riyadh hope to achieve in Syria? A report at Al-Ain media says that it wants a comprehensive political settlement to the Syrian crisis. Riyadh hopes to achieve this soon, rather than waiting a long time. Saudi Arabia discussed "the necessary steps to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis that ends all its repercussions, achieves national reconciliation and contributes to Syria's return to its Arab surroundings and the resumption of its natural role in the Arab world,” the report said.
First visit of its kind in 12 years
This is the first visit of this kind of the Saudis in Syria in 12 years. It comes after the Saudis also hosted foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Riyadh wants the Syrians to return to the Arab League. Damascus has also done outreach to the UAE and Oman.
Saudi Arabia conveyed some messages to the Syrian regime's leader. It said it was important that aid is able to reach all areas of Syria. The Saudis also discussed the importance of stability in Syria.
There have been previous attempts to repair ties between Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo and the region. For instance Syria’s Major General Ali Mamlouk led these efforts in the past. Russia also sought to encourage countries in the region to reconcile with Damascus.
So far the reconciliation has moved at a slow pace but it gathering speed now. Now there are discussions of resuming consular services and flights between Saudi Arabia and Syria. There is also a comprehensive road map of 10 items that includes humanitarian, political and diplomatic initiatives to restore Syria to its Arab surroundings, the report at Al-Ain said. The report praised the “Emirati vision” that had helped pave the way for the Saudi visit.