Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad arrives in Saudi Arabia for first time since war
Faisal Mekdad arrives in Jeddah for talks with Saudi counterpart, as regional foreign ministers prepare to meet over Damascus re-entering Arab League
Syria’s foreign minister arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, in the first such trip since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.
Faisal Mekdad and an accompanying delegation arrived in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah at the invitation of Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan, according to Syrian state news agency Sana.
The Gulf kingdom is set to host a meeting of regional foreign ministers on Friday to discuss Damascus returning to the Arab League.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League 12 years ago, following the government’s brutal crackdown on mass protests against Bashar al-Assad’s rule, with many Arab states demanding the president’s removal.
But in recent years, as Assad – with significant Russian assistance – has defeated his enemies across much of Syria, regional states have taken steps to end the isolation of Damascus, with the United Arab Emirates at the forefront of Arab rapprochement.
The UAE reopened its Syrian embassy in 2018 and welcomed Assad to Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, during his first trip to an Arab state since the start of the war.
Last month, Saudi Arabia and Syria agreed to re-open their embassies after an 11-year freeze in diplomatic relations.
The move came in the wake of the re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Syria’s closest ally in the region.
In early April, Mekdad met his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, in what was also the first such official visit in more than a decade.
It was widely reported – though not officially confirmed – that Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s brother and head of the feared Fourth Armoured Division, visited Saudi Arabia in March and received the kingdom’s conditions for normalisation.
In the wake of the two massive earthquakes in Turkey that killed more than 6,000 people in Syria on 6 February, a Saudi plane carrying aid touched down last month at Aleppo airport with food and medical equipment, the first such flight in 11 years.
Reviving ties with Saudi Arabia would be a major breakthrough for Assad, who has been on a diplomatic blitz of the region.
He visited Oman in February for the first time since his country’s civil war erupted. The following month he travelled to the UAE, accompanied by his wife Asma.