Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries, Saudi state TV al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday, citing a source in the Saudi foreign ministry.
The Saudi state TV cited the foreign ministry source as saying: “Within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are underway with officials in Syria to resume consular services.”
It added that the statement of the foreign ministry’s source was in comment on international media reports. Reuters had reported earlier, citing sources with knowledge of the matter, that Saudi Arabia and Syria have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago.
The Reuters report said communication between Riyadh and Damascus had gathered momentum following the March 10 signing of the landmark agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, brokered by China, to re-establish diplomatic ties and reopen embassies after seven years of heightened tensions. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria would be the most significant development in movements by Arab countries to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned after the eruption of Syria’s bloody civil war in 2011 which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
Assad’s regime has been politically isolated in the region since its suspension from the Arab League over the government’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. In addition, many Arab countries severed ties with Damascus and recalled their envoys.
However, recently, in the wake of the devastating February earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey, Assad received phone calls from the Arab world’s leaders with messages of support, visits from their top diplomats to express solidarity and received aid packages to alleviate the suffering of the population.
Most notably, Syrian ties with the UAE saw major developments as Assad was received in Abu Dhabi by Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed on March 19 – his second visit to the UAE in as many years, and the UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed had visited Syria last month.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on February 19 the consensus growing among Arab countries was that the isolation of Syria was “not workable”, and that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” at least with regards to the “humanitarian angle.”
He also said on March 8 that engagement with Syria could eventually lead to its return to the Arab League, however, it was “too early to discuss”.
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