Saudi Foreign Minister says Syria dialogue could pave way for Arab League return

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said Riyadh was open to Iran talks

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister visited Chatham House in London. Photo: SPA
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Increased engagement with Syria might pave the way for its return to the Arab League as ties thaw after more than a decade of isolation, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister has said.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said consensus was building in the Arab world that isolating Syria was not working and that dialogue with Damascus was needed, particularly to address its humanitarian situation, though he said it was "too early to discuss" its return just yet.

"An engagement in order to address these concerns is necessary. And that may well lead eventually to Syria returning to the Arab League ... but for now, I think it's too early to discuss," he told reporters in London.

Syria was largely isolated from the rest of the Arab world following President Bashar Al Assad's crackdown on protests that erupted against his rule in 2011.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in 2011 and many Arab countries pulled their envoys out of Damascus.

But Mr Assad has benefited from an outpouring of support from Arab states following the devastating earthquake on February 6, which killed thousands of Syrians.

Speaking to Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya, Prince Faisal bin Farhan also stressed that the nuclear agreement with Iran is not ideal in its current form and that it must address the concerns of neighbouring countries.

"We are open to dialogue with Iran," he said.

The deal Iran reached with the UK, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US collapsed after Washington's unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under former US President Donald Trump.

On Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani expressed the hope that International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi’s visit would pave the way for a resumption of negotiations to revive the 2015 agreement.

When Algeria hosted the first Arab League summit since 2019, Damascus stayed away after Algeria failed to persuade other Arab states to end Syria's suspension.

Saudi Arabia will host this year's Arab League summit. Asked whether Syria would be welcome, Prince Faisal said: "I think it's too early to talk about that."

"But I can say that ... that there is a consensus building in the Arab world, that the status quo is not tenable. And that means we have to find a way to move beyond that status quo."

Updated: March 08, 2023, 6:48 AM