Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Tuesday in Damascus, marking the most important step yet toward easing Syria’s ten-year regional isolation, according to Syrian state media.
First visit by a senior Saudi ambassador to Damascus since relations were severed in the wake of Assad’s bloody assault on protestors in 2011 – violence that spiraled into a decade-long civil war – Bin Farhan arrived earlier on Tuesday.
Syria’s state news agency said bin Farhan met with Assad but did not immediately provide further details.
The Saudi foreign ministry said in an online statement that the visit showed the kingdom’s desire to find a political solution to Syria’s conflict that would preserve the country’s “Arab identity, and return it to its Arab surroundings”.
Following the security forces’ crackdown on demonstrators in 2011, Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended and several Gulf Arab states – including Saudi Arabia – began backing rebel groups fighting to oust Assad from power.
Assad, with the help of his main allies Iran and Russia, later regained control over much of Syria, and Saudi Arabia has said in recent months that isolating him was not working.
The two sides agreed to resume diplomatic ties, and Reuters reported this month that bin Farhan would travel to Damascus to invite Assad to the Arab League’s next summit in Riyadh on May 19, two sources familiar with the plans said.
Saudi Arabia hosted Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad last week and then held a meeting in Jeddah of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq to discuss Syria’s possible return to the Arab fold.