Saudi's Jubeir: 'Too early' to reopen Syria embassy

Riyadh will not reopen embassy in Damascus until progress is made on Syria peace process, Adel al-Jubeir says.

    Jubeir: 'The reopening of the embassy is related to the progress of the political process' [Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters]
    Jubeir: 'The reopening of the embassy is related to the progress of the political process' [Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters]

    Saudi Arabia has ruled out reopening the kingdom's embassy in Syria, saying it is "too early" to restore diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad's government.

    The comments were made on Monday by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who also said Saudi authorities would not take part in any reconstruction efforts in Syria without progress on a political process to end the country's eight-year-old war.

    "The kingdom has always been keen on the integrity of the Syrian territory and the political solution," al-Jubeir told a joint press conference with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

    "[And] the reopening of the embassy is related to the progress of the political process," he added.

    Riyadh closed its embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and pulled out its diplomats and staff in March 2012.

    Al-Jubeir also said Riyadh, which backed rebels fighting Assad, was against reinstating Syria to the Arab League for now.

    Syria was suspended from the pan-Arab body in 2011 and slapped with sanctions following Assad's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

    The unrest escalated into the country's ongoing civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than 11 million others, according to the United Nations.

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    Assad has since recovered control of most of Syria with support from Russia, Iran and Tehran-backed groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

    Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), meanwhile, have backed armed groups opposed to Assad during the war.

    In December last year, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab League leader to visit Damascus since the war in Syria began.

    Shortly afterwards, the UAE, a Saudi ally, reopened its embassy in Damascus in December in a bid to re-engage with Assad and rebuild its influence in Syria as a means of heading off regional interference in "Arab affairs".

    But the United States is lobbying other Gulf states to hold off on rehabilitating Syria, the Reuters news agency reported last month, citing five sources familiar with the process.

    Fresh EU sanctions on Damascus

    The European Union also stepped up pressure on Damascus on Monday, adding Syria's interior minister and six other ministers, including the portfolio holders for tourism, education and communications and technology, to a sanctions blacklist for their role in Assad's "violent repression" of civilians.

    The European Council, which includes the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, said in a statement those sanctioned were barred from travelling to Europe and would see their assets frozen.

    Including the seven newly added individuals, there are now 277 people under EU sanctions for their role in the repression of civilians in Syria and their links to Assad.

    Brussels has also frozen the assets of some 72 entities, while other sanctions include an embargo on Syrian oil and a freeze on the country's central bank assets within the bloc.

    "The EU will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues," the European Council statement said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies