Saudi Arabia to invite Syria’s Assad to Arab League summit: Report
Saudi Arabia plans to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit in Riyadh in May, a move that could cement Assad’s return to Arab rule after a decade isolation.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to travel to Damascus in the coming weeks to formally invite Assad in person, according to Reuters, which first reported the news.
The Arab League summit is scheduled for May 19. The Syrian leader’s visit would coincide with plans by Saudi Arabia and Syria to reopen their embassies after the holy month of Ramadan at the end of April, Reuters reported earlier.
The uptick in talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria comes after Riyadh moved in March to restore ties with Iran, one of Damascus’ main backers.
A Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye that the normalization agreement was “another obstacle in the way of further re-engagement” with Riyadh.
Maher al-Assad, brother of the Syrian president and commander of the feared Fourth Armored Division, visited Saudi Arabia last month and received the kingdom’s conditions for normalization.
Diplomatic efforts also took off after the two massive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February. Saudi Arabia sent aid to government-held Aleppo in the first such flight in 11 years.
Reviving ties with Saudi Arabia was a major breakthrough for Assad, who has been on a diplomatic blitz in the region. He visited Oman in February for the first time since the start of his country’s civil war. The following month he traveled to the UAE, accompanied by his wife Asma.
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The kingdom has suggested that Syria’s re-entry to the Arab League could be an ultimate goal for closer engagement. Prince Faisal called the previous status quo in war-torn Syria “unsustainable”.
The Arab League has lost much of the influence it once commanded in the Middle East, but membership still carries symbolic weight.
Egypt, the historic leader of the group, is working with Saudi Arabia to facilitate a return to Damascus, according to Reuters.
On Saturday, Syria’s foreign minister met his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo for the first such visit in more than a decade.
Assad is still viewed as a pariah in much of the West for overseeing a violent crackdown on his opponents after the 2011 Arab Spring.
The US is still against normalization. Regional powers such as Qatar have also ruled out normalizing ties with Assad without changes in his government’s behavior.