Saudi foreign minister says Arab world moving towards dialogue with Syria

Saudi foreign minister says Arab world moving towards dialogue with Syria
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said the Arab world was moving towards a consensus that dialogue with Syria is necessary to address humanitarian needs, including response to last week's devastating earthquakes.
2 min read
19 February, 2023
Saudi Arabia sent aid to Syria in the wake of the devastating earthquake [Getty]

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said consensus was building in the Arab world that isolating Syria was not working and that dialogue with Damascus was needed "at some point" to at least address humanitarian issues, including a return of refugees.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud's remarks at a Munich security forum on Saturday mark a shift from the early years of Syria's 12-year civil war when several Arab states including Saudi Arabia backed rebels that fought Bashar al-Assad.

"You will see not just among the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but in the Arab world there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable," he said.

The minister said in the absence of a path towards "maximalist goals" for a political solution, another approach was "being formulated" to address the issue of Syrian refugees in neighbouring states and suffering of civilians, especially after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey.

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"So that's going to have to go through a dialogue with the government in Damascus at some point in a way that achieves at least the most important of the objectives especially as regards the humanitarian angle, the return of refugees, etc," he said.

Asked about reports that he would visit Damascus following visits by his Emirati and Jordanian counterparts after the earthquake, Prince Faisal said he would not comment on rumours.

Riyadh has sent aid planes to regime-held territory in Syria as part of earthquake relief efforts after initially sending aid only to the country's opposition-held northwest.

The normalisation of ties with the Assad regime by Arab states will be difficult to stomach for many Syrians. 

More than 500,000 Syrians have been killed since a civil war sparked by a brutal crackdown on protesters by the Assad regime began in 2011. Millions more have been displaced from their homes.

Assad and the enforcers of his rule stand accused of illegal weapons use, indiscriminate bombing, forced disappearances and other crimes against humanity.

Shunned by the West, Assad has been basking in an outpouring of support from Arab states that have normalised ties with him in recent years, notably the United Arab Emirates which aims for Arab influence in Syria to counter that of Iran.

Assad has recovered control of most of Syria with support from Russia along with Iran and Iranian-backed Shia Muslim groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The UAE has been pressing for re-engagement with Damascus, despite opposition from the United States which has imposed sanctions on Syria that remain a complicating factor.