On March 23, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al-Ekhbariya announced on television that Saudi Arabia and Syria are currently in talks to resume consular services. This announcement follows a wave of diplomatic thawing between multiple countries in the Middle East. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia have experienced détente with other countries. Syria’s President Assad recently visited the UAE; Egypt has made nice with Syria and Turkey; and Saudi Arabia has re-established diplomatic relations with Iran. These events show that a great deal of progress is being made, as Syria has been diplomatically isolated since the beginning of their civil war in 2011, and Saudi Arabia cut off all communications with Iran following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran in 2016.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, made comments in recent weeks concerning Syria and its relationship to its fellow Arab League members. Prince Faisal stated on February 19 of this year at a security forum in Munich that there is a growing consensus that isolating Syria is not working and that communication between Syria and the Arab League’s members should reopen in order to, at the very least, discuss humanitarian issues. On March 7, while in London, Prince Faisal expanded on his previous statements, saying that increasing engagement with Syria may thaw diplomatic ties and pave the way for Syria to be reinstated to the Arab League, but then followed up by noting that it was too early to discuss any specifics of their reinstatement to the League.
The Saudis seem hesitant on Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab League given Prince Faisal’s comments on how it is “too early” for such discussions; however, it could simply mean that the Saudis are simply not rushing to reinstate Syria as the civil war is still ongoing and the West is not keen on negotiations. It could relate to the fact that Saudi Arabia had armed and funded various Syrian rebel forces towards the beginning of the war and continued to do so until 2017, as claimed by Saudi ministers who said Riyadh was “disengaging” from Syrian rebel forces. In 2021, Al Jazeera reported that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was reported as being “keen to reengage with Assad.”
Despite the reasoning behind the Saudi’s cautiousness, it is apparent that they are willing to open communications in order to see where it takes the two countries. The Wall Street Journal noted that this initial form of reconciliation between the two countries could have been mediated by Russia, but there has been no confirmation of those claims as of yet. Earlier this month, China made similar moves when it assisted in the agreement made between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Russia has long stood by as an ally to Assad’s government, and seeing a return of diplomatic relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia would go a long way in stabilizing relationships throughout the Middle East.
It’s too early to speculate how successful this detente may be, as communications are only now being opened; however, it does give a sense that the large players in the Middle East are prepared to look past their history in order to move forward. Time will only tell whether these opening talks will succeed in interconnecting the Middle East or whether they will fail and leave the Middle East in its perpetual cycle of infighting.