Saudi Arabia and Syria are holding talks on reopening consular sections in their embassies in Riyadh and Damascus, according to an official Saudi television channel.
Citing a Saudi foreign ministry source, Al Ekhbariya announced on Thursday: “Within the framework of the kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are under way with officials in Syria to resume consular services.”
The talks in Saudi Arabia have involved senior Syrian and Saudi intelligence officers, Reuters reported.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Maher al-Assad, the brother of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, visited Riyadh this week for talks. An unnamed Syrian official told London-based Middle East Eye website: “Things are getting closer.”
The timing of the announcement could be significant as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Thursday, has traditionally been a period for peacemaking. The sides could reopen their missions in April after Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends Ramadan.
This could be the first step in restoring full diplomatic relations between the two countries, severed by Riyadh in 2012 following the Syrian government’s crackdown on armed opponents. This led to the Iranian- and Russian- backed Syrian army’s war which enabled the government to regain control over 70 per cent of the country.
Arab commentators consider the Saudi-Syrian development the most significant in the United Arab Emirates-sponsored reconciliation process between president al-Assad and Arab governments which formerly backed militias seeking to overthrow him.
The effort began in 2018 with the reopening of the Emirati embassy. This was followed by the return of the embassy of Bahrain, which is closely allied to Saudi Arabia.
Earlier his month, Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan said engagement with Damascus could lead to Syria’s return to the Arab League after a 12-year suspension due to the war. Arab leaders are set to meet at summit level in Riyadh in May.
Saudi-Syrian reconciliation has been given impetus by the China-brokered agreement on March 10th to restore diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran, and Saudi King Salman’s invitation to Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi to visit Riyadh. The Saudis have also expressed readiness to invest in Iran.
Saudi humanitarian aid to Syrian victims of February’s devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey has created a climate of reconciliation between the two countries.
A state department spokesman said US opposition to “normalisation remains unchanged” and Washington does not encourage other countries to restore ties with Mr Assad.