Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Monday, making him the highest-level Egyptian official to visit Syria since war broke out in the country in 2011.
Shoukry visited Syria to express Egypt’s support following a devastating earthquake that killed at least 5,900 people in Syria and 44,000 in Turkey. His visit came after a delegation of senior Arab lawmakers made the trip to Damascus as regional countries are warming up to the Assad government.
While relations between Syria and Egypt have been rocky for over a decade, Cairo has maintained formal diplomatic relations with Damascus, only briefly suspending them in 2013 and resuming them the same year. Syria was suspended from the Cairo-based Arab League in 2011 and has yet to be reinstated.
The US is opposed to regional countries normalizing with Syria and refused to engage with the government in Damascus even after the earthquake. Following the earthquake, State Department spokesman Ned Price said it would be “would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive” for the US to work with Assad’s government on relief efforts.
The US has issued a 180-day exemption for its sanctions on Syria that applies to transactions related to earthquake relief. But UN experts say the exemption isn’t enough and are calling for the US to fully lift the sanctions, which are specifically designed to prevent Syria’s reconstruction.
Following his visit to Syria, Shoukry traveled to Turkey, another country Egypt has had frosty relations with over the past decade. “I come with a message of solidarity and support for the friendly Turkish people,” Shoukry said when he arrived in Turkey.