Saudi Foreign Minister meets Assad in Syria on first visit since 2011

Prince Faisal bin Farhan's arrival in Damascus comes a week after Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad visited Jeddah

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Damascus. Photo: Saudi foreign ministry
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Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Syria on Tuesday in the first visit by a senior Saudi official to the country since the civil war erupted in 2011, Syria’s Information Ministry has said.

Prince Faisal arrived in Damascus after his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad visited Jeddah on April 12.

He was received by Minister of Presidential Affairs of Syria, Mansour Azzam, before meeting President Bashar Al Assad.

"His Highness's visit to Syria comes within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness and interest to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that ends all its repercussions and preserves Syria’s unity, security, stability, and its Arab identity," said the Saudi foreign ministry.

The foreign minister stressed the importance of providing a suitable environment for aid to reach all parts of Syria and to facilitate the return of refugees, it added.

Mr Mekdad's visit to Jeddah came days before Saudi Arabia hosted a meeting of nine Arab nations focused on ending Syria's isolation at a time of fast-paced diplomatic shifts across the region.

Saudi Arabia and Syria have agreed to begin the process to resume consular services and flights between the two countries after they normalised ties.

Regional efforts have increased during the past few weeks to re-engage with Syria and reduce its isolation from the Arab world as a result of the decade-long civil war in the country.

Tunisia on Tuesday said it is "keen to resume fraternal ties" with Damascus and "intensify consultations and coordination on bilateral files in all domains."

Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since the Assad government began a brutal clampdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Prince Faisal and Mr Mekdad said after their meeting in Jeddah they had agreed on the importance of resolving humanitarian difficulties, as well as providing an environment for aid to reach all parts of Syria.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with the Assad government in 2012 but earthquake on February 6 that caused devastation in Turkey and Syria sparked Arab outreach to the Syrian government, and the surprise rapprochement between Riyadh and Damascus-backer Tehran was announced the following month.

The visits represent a major step towards ending Syria's decade-long regional isolation over its response to protests against the Assad regime.

Also on Tuesday, Kuwait denied reports its foreign minister would visit Syria on Thursday.

The Foreign Ministry said media reports on the visit were incorrect, according to a statement published by state news agency Kuna.

Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah was among several regional officials to meet in Jeddah last Friday, discussing Syria's potential return into the diplomatic fold.

Updated: April 19, 2023, 3:31 AM