Syria, Saudi Arabia move toward restoring embassies, flights


BEIRUT — Syria and Saudi Arabia are moving toward reopening embassies and resuming flights between the two countries for the first time in more than a decade, the countries said Thursday in a joint statement.

The announcement followed a visit by Syria’s top diplomat to the kingdom, the first since Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012.

Syria was widely shunned by Arab governments over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on protester,s and later civilians, in an uprising turned civil war that began in 2011. The breakdown in relations culminated with Syria being ousted from the Arab League.

However, in recent years, as Assad has consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbors have begun to take steps toward rapprochement. The overtures have picked up pace since the massive Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered reestablishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, regional rivals that had backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

A delegation headed by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad, at the invitation of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for talks about bilateral relations between the two countries, state media from the two countries reported.

Saudi state media reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad was received by the kingdom’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji.

The meeting focused on the steps needed to reach a “comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis that would … achieve national reconciliation, and contribute to the return of Syria to its Arab fold,” the two countries said in a joint statement.

Saudi Arabia is hosting the next Arab League summit in May, where a restoration of Syria’s membership is widely expected to be on the table.

The two sides also discussed “the importance of enhancing security and combating terrorism in all its forms, and enhancing cooperation in combating drug smuggling and trafficking,” the statement said. Syria is a primary producer of the amphetamine-based drug Captagon, which is largely smuggled into Gulf markets for sale.

The talks also focused on “the need to support … the Syrian state to extend its control over its territories to end the presence of armed militias and external interference in the Syrian internal affairs,” as well as on facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of Syrian refugees.

The visit to Saudi Arabia came after Syria announced Wednesday that it will reopen its embassy in Tunisia, which cut off relations in 2012.

Tunisian President Kais Saied announced earlier this month that he had directed the country’s foreign ministry to appoint a new ambassador to Syria.

His move was reciprocated by the Syrian government, a joint statement from the two countries’ foreign ministries said Wednesday, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

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