“Saudi Arabia agrees to normalize relations with Iran and Syria”

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. AFP Yonhap News

Reuters reported on the 23rd (local time) that Saudi Arabia has agreed to normalize relations with Syria following the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran.

Reuters reported this, citing three sources. A Syrian source said, “Both countries are preparing to reopen the embassy on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which will return in late next month.” Other sources said the restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria has also gained momentum as Saudi Arabia recently restored relations with Iran, a key Syrian ally.

Another diplomat from the Gulf region said, “Agreement was reached to reopen the embassy soon after a senior Syrian intelligence official stayed in Riyadh for several days.”

The Saudi government’s public affairs office, foreign ministry and Syrian government did not comment on the report that day. Saudi Arabia’s state television quoted a Saudi Foreign Ministry official as saying talks were underway with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resume consular operations. The Wall Street Journal reported, citing Saudi and Syrian officials, that discussions on reopening the embassy between the two countries originated from Russian mediation.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League after civil war broke out in 2011. At the time, the Arab world and the West took issue with President Bashar al-Assad’s hard suppression of anti-government protests. At the same time, he supported some rebels in the early days of the civil war.

Since then, Assad has regained control of most of the country, with support from allies such as Russia and Iran. Arab countries have shown signs of repairing relations with him in recent years. The Associated Press analyzed, “Last month’s earthquakes in Syria and Turkey accelerated the process of rekindling international sympathy, with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries sending aid to Syria.” In particular, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has actively worked to restore relations with Syria by inviting President Assad this month as it did in March last year. The UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, Syria, in 2018.

The possibility of Syria returning to the Arab League with this normalization of relations is also carefully discussed. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said earlier this month that repairing relations with the Assad regime could lead to Syria’s return to the Arab League. A diplomat said that Syria’s return could be discussed at the Arab League summit to be held in Saudi Arabia in May.

If relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria are restored, it symbolically shows how much the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran has had a great impact on the situation in the Middle East.

However, the United States has been opposed to the Arab world restoring relations with Syria. On the same day, the US State Department told Reuters that “the US position on normalizing their relationship has not changed.” US sanctions remain a complicating factor for countries seeking to expand economic ties, Reuters reported.

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