No consensus on Syrian Arab League return after Saudi summit

Beirut (AP) — After meeting in Saudi Arabia to discuss Syria’s political fate, a group of regional leaders promised Saturday to continue talks to reach a political solution to the Syrian conflict, but stopped short of endorsing its return to the Arab League.

The meeting, which included top diplomats from the Arab Gulf countries as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, was convened days after Syria’s foreign minister visited Saudi Arabia for the first time since the kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012.

Syria and Saudi Arabia said Thursday they were moving toward reopening embassies and resuming flights between the two countries for the first time in more than a decade.

Syria was widely shunned by Arab governments over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters in a 2011 uprising that descended into civil war. The breakdown in relations culminated with Syria being ousted from the Arab League.

However, in recent years, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbors have begun to take steps toward rapprochement. The overtures picked up pace since the massive Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered reestablishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Saudi Arabia is hosting the next Arab League summit in May, when Syria’s membership is widely expected to be on the table. Some members, mainly Qatar, have opposed Damascus’ return to the organization.

Qatar did not appear to have changed its stance after the meetings convened in Jeddah late Friday.

A statement issued by the Saudi foreign ministry Saturday said the ministers had “stressed that a political solution is the only solution to the Syrian crisis, and the importance of having an Arab leadership role in efforts to end the crisis.” They agreed to “set up the necessary mechanisms” to do so and hold “intensifying consultations among Arab countries to ensure the success of these efforts.

The ministers also condemned recent Israeli police raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City and “emphasized the centrality and priority of the Palestinian cause, and condemned illegal Israeli practices that undermine the two-state solution” with an “independent and sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem” based on pre-1967 borders, the statement said.

Also on Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad arrived in Algeria on an official visit to discuss “strengthening bilateral relations” and “coordinating positions between the two countries” in the “Arab and international arenas,” Syrian state media reported. Algeria is one of the few Arab countries that did not cut off relations with Syria during the conflict.