Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat in Damascus, ending more than a decade of diplomatic deep freeze between the two countries.
Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that “President Bashar al-Assad meets Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan.”
This is the first visit to Syria’s capital by a Saudi official since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the conflict began, but a flurry of diplomatic activity has been underway in the past week as regional relations shift following a decision by Saudi Arabia and Damascus’s ally Iran to resume ties.
The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes less than a week after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, also on the first such visit since the conflict began. Last week, diplomats from nine Arab countries met in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss ending Syria’s long spell in the diplomatic wilderness and its possible return to the 22-member Arab League after Damascus was suspended in 2011.
Several other Arab countries also cut ties with Syria as some powers bet on Assad’s demise. But regional capitals have gradually been warming to Assad as he has clawed back most of the territory lost to rivals, with crucial backing from Russia and Iran. The United Arab Emirates, which re-established ties in late 2018, has been leading the charge to reintegrate Damascus into the Arab fold.
Syria is hoping that normalisation with wealthy Gulf states could bring economic relief and money for reconstruction, as broader international funding remains elusive without a United Nations-backed political settlement to the conflict.