Middle East
Saudi king in Syria to boost ties
King Abdullah arrives in Damascus for talks aimed at healing long-standing wounds.
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2009 18:48 GMT
King Abdullah and Bashar al-Assad hold talks aimed at bringing about a healing of long-standing rifts

The king of Saudi Arabia has arrived in Damascus for talks with the Syrian president aimed at healing a long-standing rift between the two countries.

Abdullah's visit to Damascus, his first since becoming king two years ago, coincides with a change in approach by the US to Syria following the election of Barack Obama as president.

Bashar al-Assad met Abdullah at the airport and took him to a presidential palace in the Syrian capital on Wednesday.

The two leaders are expected to discuss Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanon.

Divisive issues

Thabet Salem, a political analyst in Damascus, told Al Jazeera: "There is a tendency among the Western forces nowadays to deal with the Iranians in a more peaceful way. They are trying not to be belligerent to this country, to contain it and reach what they want by peaceful means.

"Now the US administration has changed there will automatically be a change on the Saudi part regarding relations with Syria"

Thabet Salem,
political analyst

"This has been felt by Saudi Arabia and this is another factor that helped the visit of the Saudi monarch to Damascus."

Diplomats in Damascus said an understanding between the Syrian and Saudi leaders could help forge a wider Arab stance helpful to Obama's peace efforts, promote formation of a new government in Lebanon, and assuage the fears of Sunni Muslim Arab powers regarding Shia Iran, an ally of Syria. 

The Syrian state newspaper al-Thawra reported: "The two leaders have hot files on their hands. Palestine and the suffering of Gaza; Lebanon and its need for national unity; and Iraq.

Syrian and Saudi ties were damaged after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. Al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, had been backed by Saudi and his allies blamed the killing on Damascus. Syria denied any involvement.

Al-Assad broke the ice last month when he visited Saudi Arabia and held two hours of talks with Abdullah, but has given no sign that he is willing to sever his alliance with Iran.

Iranian dimension

"Now the US administration has changed there will automatically be a change on the Saudi part regarding relations with Syria," Salem added.

"The Iranian dimension, although it is very important to the Saudis, I think the Palestinian issue is very critical now. It's high time for the Saudis to say 'we want to improve the Arab relations and achieve our goals by a different means'.

"I don't think the Saudis can convince the Syrians to get away from Iran. The Syrians say, 'Iran under the Shah was an enemy and a zealous ally of the Israelis'.

"The Syrians will try to convince the Saudis that there's no need to make this big fuss about the Iranian-Syrian relation."

Al Jazeera and agencies
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