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S. Arabia readies Arab talks on Syria as Mideast diplomacy shifts

Nine-nation talks indicate political normalisation in region

By AFP - Apr 13,2023 - Last updated at Apr 13,2023

This handout photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday shows Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad meeting with Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan in Jeddah (AFP photo)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia was preparing Thursday to host an Arab regional meeting on ending Syria's isolation at a time of dizzying diplomatic shifts following its deal to resume relations with rival Iran.

Friday's nine-nation talks in Jeddah, the Red Sea gateway to Mecca, come after Syria's foreign minister arrived on a previously unannounced visit — the first since the outbreak of the country's civil war in 2011.

It was one in a flurry of events that were nearly unthinkable before Saudi Arabia and Iran's landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement on March 10 that they would resume ties, seven years after an acrimonious split.

On Wednesday, an Iranian delegation landed in Saudi Arabia to pave the way for reopening diplomatic missions, following a trip by a Saudi team in the opposite direction.

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen has held talks with Iran-backed Houthi rebels this week aimed at ending the devastating civil war that has raged since a Saudi-led military intervention started in 2015.

Earlier this month, the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers pledged to work together to bring "security and stability" to the troubled region during a meeting in Beijing.

And late on Wednesday, gas-rich Qatar and its tiny Gulf neighbour Bahrain agreed to re-establish relations, putting aside a long-running diplomatic feud.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, and Iran have long been vying for influence around the region, with Yemen a major battleground.

But analysts say Saudi Arabia is now trying to calm the region to allow it to focus on domestic projects aimed at diversifying its energy-dependent economy.

On Friday, ministers and top officials from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will meet in Jeddah.

On the table is Syria’s suspension from the Arab League, in place since the eruption of the war in Syria in 2011.

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Saudi counterpart have discussed “the necessary steps” to end Damascus’s isolation, according to a Saudi statement on Wednesday.

 

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