Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat in Damascus on Tuesday, state media reported, ending more than a decade of diplomatic deep-freeze between the two countries.
“President Bashar al-Assad meets Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan,” Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.
The Saudi prince arrived in Damascus on Tuesday afternoon on the first visit to Syria’s capital by a Saudi official since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.
Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the conflict began, but a flurry of diplomatic activity has been underway in the past week as regional relations shift following a decision by Saudi Arabia and Damascus’s ally Iran to resume ties.
The trip comes less than a week after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, also on the first such visit since the conflict began.
Last week, diplomats from nine Arab countries met in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss ending Syria’s long spell in the diplomatic wilderness and its possible return to the 22-member Arab League after Damascus was suspended in 2011.
The diplomats stressed the “importance of having an Arab leadership role in efforts to end the crisis” in Syria, according to a statement by the Saudi foreign ministry.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Assad’s government in 2012 and Riyadh had long openly championed Assad’s ouster, backing Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war.
Several other Arab countries also cut ties with Syria as some powers bet on Assad’s demise.
But regional capitals have gradually been warming to Assad as he has clawed back most of the territory lost to rivals, with crucial backing from Russia and Iran.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which re-established ties in late 2018, has been leading the charge to reintegrate Damascus into the Arab fold.