Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hosted Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Damascus on Tuesday in the latest sign that Riyadh is ready to normalize diplomatic relations with Syria, which have been suspended since 2012.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s trip to Damascus marked the first high-level Saudi visit to Syria since 2011 when Riyadh threw its support behind the failed regime change effort against Assad.
The visit comes as Saudi Arabia is looking to bring Syria back into the Arab League. In a statement, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said bin Farhan’s trip showed Riyadh’s desire to find a solution to the conflict in Syria that would “Arab identity, and return it to its Arab surroundings.”
Also on Tuesday, Syria’s foreign minister visited Tunisia on a trip to restore diplomatic ties with the African country, which also severed relations with Damascus in 2012.
The Saudis are facing some resistance among other Arab nations in its push to bring Assad out of isolation, including Qatar, Morrocco, and Kuwait, and the US is opposed to the idea, but Riyadh seems determined to follow through. Bin Farhan’s visit came after Syria’s foreign minister traveled to Damascus for the first time since 2011.
CIA Director William Burns recently visited Riyadh and told the Saudis that the US was “blindsided” by their steps to upgrade ties with Damascus and normalize with Iran. The US prefers to keep Syria isolated and under crippling economic sanctions, but more and more regional countries are accepting that Assad isn’t going anywhere.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Arab countries were looking to work out a normalization deal with Assad that would involve Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other US allies lobbying for an end to Western sanctions on Syria.