Middle east

Will the Arab Summit in Riyadh end al-Assad’s isolation?

The Arab League announced Sunday that the 32nd Arab Summit will be held on May 19 in the Saudi capital, while Syria’s return to its Arab region is expected to be on the agenda. The summit’s agenda will be amid diplomatic momentum that followed a devastating earthquake that left tens of thousands dead and massive destruction in addition to Riyadh and Damascus ending years of diplomatic isolation.

Riyadh invited Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to participate in the Arab summit, although it would be premature to make such arrangements. All indications are that with the exception of Qatar, which is still hesitant, the Arab trend is supportive of and motivation for Syria to regain its membership in the Arab League.

Setting a date for the Arab summit “follows consultations between the Secretary-General of the League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the Saudi government, which informed Riyadh that it welcomes holding the summit on that date.”

“The summit will be preceded by several preparatory meetings at the senior officials and ministerial levels in preparation for holding it over five days,” the statement said. The last Arab summit was held in Algeria last November, and few Arab leaders attended.

It was the last summit of Arab leaders of the 22-nation Arab League, the first after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 crisis.

At the Algiers summit, Arab leaders discussed regional conflicts, especially in Syria and Libya, as well as the normalization of relations between some Arab countries in recent years.

The upcoming Riyadh summit will be the 50th in the history of the Arab League’s 77-year summits and will establish reconciliation and enhance efforts

From the first summit held in Egypt in 1946 to the Algiers summit, Arab summits have included 31 ordinary summits, 14 emergency summits and 4 socio-economic development summits.

This week, three well-informed sources said that Syria and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen their embassies and restore diplomatic relations, which were severed more than a decade ago, in a development that would represent a big step on the road to ending their isolation after they began to gradually disintegrate following the wide-ranging Arab solidarity with Damascus, which was struck by a devastating earthquake on February 6th.

A pro-Damascus regional source said that contacts between Riyadh and Damascus gained momentum after a historic agreement to restore relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The restoration of ties between Riyadh and Damascus will be the most significant development so far in Arab moves to normalize relations with Assad, who was boycotted by many Western and Arab countries after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. A second regional source allied with Damascus said the two governments “are preparing to reopen the embassies after Eid al-Fitr.”

The decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one regional source and a Gulf diplomat.

Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan signaled his country’s intention to resume ties with Damascus by stressing the importance of engagement with the Syrian regime and dialog as a means to resolve the Syrian crisis. He said that reaching out to Assad could lead to Syria’s return to the Arab League, but added that it might be premature to discuss such a move at this time.

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