Isolated Syria’s FM arrives in Saudi Arabia in landmark visit
Riyadh (Reuters) – Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, state media said, in a major signal that Syria’s decade-long regional isolation is nearing an end.
Mekdad landed in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah following an invitation from his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
It is the first visit by a senior Syrian diplomat to the kingdom in more than a decade, following an agreement between Riyadh and Damascus to re-establish ties and reopen their embassies.
“(The two ministers) will hold a session of talks on efforts to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that preserves the unity, security and stability of Syria,” the Saudi statement said. Facilitating the return of Syrian refugees and humanitarian access will also be discussed, it added.
The resumption of ties marks the most significant development in moves by Arab states to normalize links with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria’s civil war began in 2011.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in response to Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests.
Mekdad’s visit came two days before Saudi Arabia hosts another meeting of regional foreign ministers that will discuss Syria’s return to the Arab League.
Foreign ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) will gather in Jeddah on Friday, Qatar’s foreign ministry said. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia plans to invite Assad to the Arab League summit that Riyadh is scheduled to host on May 19, a move that would formally end his regional isolation, sources have told Reuters.
Syria and Tunisia also agreed to reopen their respective embassies, the two countries said on Wednesday.