Syria and Saudi Arabia are taking steps to resume consular services and flights between the two countries for the first time in more than a decade.
The joint statement issued on Thursday followed a visit by Syria’s top diplomat to Saudi Arabia, the first since the kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012.
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Riyadh shunned Damascus amid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in 2011, and subsequently backed rebel groups that fought to remove him from power.
The breakdown in relations culminated with Syria being removed from the Arab League.
However, in recent years, as al-Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbours have begun to take steps towards bringing the country back to the Arab fold and to normalise ties with its leader.
The overtures picked up pace since the massive February 6 earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.
Syrian FM visits Saudi Arabia
On Wednesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad landed in Jeddah, a major sign that Syria’s regional isolation was nearing an end.
His visit came at the invitation of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. It also came weeks after Mekdad met the top diplomats of Egypt and Jordan, also for the first time in more than 10 years.
In a joint statement at the end of Wednesday’s visit, both sides agreed on the need for a “comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis that would … achieve national reconciliation, and contribute to the return of Syria to its Arab fold”.
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’s return to the organisation, however.
Talk of Syria returning to the Arab League was speculation as the reasons for its expulsion still existed, the prime minister of Qatar said on Thursday.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurahman Al Thani said in a television interview that the original basis for the suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League in 2011 still stands. He added that Qatar maintains its stance on normalisation with Syria unless there is a political solution to the crisis.
“The war has stopped, but the Syrian people are still displaced,” Qatar’s prime minister said. “We do not want to impose solutions on the Syrian people, and there must be a political solution. We do not take any step without a political solution, and each country has its own decision and sovereign right.”
Ministers and top officials from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will gather at Saudi Arabia’s request on Friday.