Riyadh had previously backed “regime change” in Damascus, but now endorses Syrian unity
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad traveled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the first such trip since Riyadh cut diplomatic relations with Damascus in 2012. According to a joint press statement after the visit, Saudi Arabia has endorsed Syrian unity and integrity, condemned terrorism, and endorsed a political solution to the 12-year-long war.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud had invited his Syrian colleague to Jeddah to discuss “efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis that preserves Syria’s unity, security, stability, Arab identity, and territorial integrity while also serving the interests of its brotherly people,” said the statement, cited by the state news agencies of both countries.
Prince Faisal and Dr. Mekdad agreed on the need to address humanitarian issues and allow aid “to reach all areas of Syria,” establish conditions for the return of refugees and displaced people, and “stabilize the situation in the entire Syrian territories.”
The two sides also committed to enhancing security and “combating terrorism in all its forms,” and agreed on the need to “support the institutions of 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.”
Parts of northern Syria are currently under control of Turkish-backed militants, while the area northeast of the Euphrates River is held by US-backed Kurdish militias. Several hundred US troops are also in the country in violation of international law, controlling most of the Syrian oil wells.
The two foreign ministers also discussed steps needed to reach “a comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis,” so the country could return to the “Arab fold,” their joint statement said.
Damascus and Riyadh have begun the procedures needed to resume air travel and consular services between the two countries, while Syria thanked Saudi Arabia for the humanitarian aid provided after the catastrophic earthquakes in February. Much of the aid to Syria has been impeded by the US-imposed “Caesar” sanctions against Damascus.
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Syria in February 2012, joining the US in backing the militants that sought to overthrow President Bashar Assad. With the backing of Russia and Iran, the government in Damascus eventually prevailed over the collection of rebel militias that included terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
Rumors that Riyadh was preparing to reverse course began to circulate last month, shortly after China mediated an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to normalize relations. Since then, the kingdom has also launched peace talks to end the eight-year-long conflict in Yemen.