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June 9, 2021

Saudi Arabia, Syria ‘talking for peace’

DOHA: Saudi Arabia is close to reaching an agreement on diplomatic normalisation with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Al Jazeera news outlet reports Tuesday, citing those with close knowledge of the discussions.

According to a senior official from the Syrian opposition Free Officer’s Movement, who maintains close contacts within the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and General Intelligence Directorate (GID), “the political mood within the House of Saud has changed, many senior royals, particularly Mohammad bin Salman [MBS] himself, are keen to reengage with Assad”.

“The prevailing attitude can be defined as, ‘times have changed, the Arab Spring is history and the region is transitioning towards a new future, with new geopolitical characteristics,’” the official, who himself recently reconciled with Damascus after defecting to the Syrian opposition in the summer of 2011, added.

The discussion with Al Jazeera came on the heels of a report in early May, which claimed Riyadh had dispatched an intelligence delegation led by GID Director General Khalid Humaidan to Damascus to engage in discussions on the possibility of detente between the two erstwhile foes. Also in May, Syria dispatched its first ministerial delegation in 10 years to Riyadh, led by the Minister of Tourism Rami Martini.

According to a Damascus-based official from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was privy to the recent talks with Riyadh, “MBS is engaged in efforts to defuse tensions with The Islamic Republic of Iran by engaging with Syria.”

According to the official, “MBS instructed his team to reassure Syria that he does not want regime change against Bashar, and that Syria, as a brotherly Arab nation, should naturally be close to Saudi Arabia”.

The official claimed this was “clearly also intended as a signal” to the Iranian leadership that Riyadh “recognises that the side of the war in which … [Iran] most heavily invested won, and that it will not try to challenge that reality”.

The official, while refusing to confirm, also alluded to the possibility of an Iranian presence at the Damascus meeting, saying, “let’s just say the Iranians were immediately very welcoming to what they heard”.