The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, has called for a meeting to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab League.
Foreign ministers from GCC member states as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will take part in the meeting that will be held in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah on April 14, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari told reporters on April 11.
Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended 12 years ago after the failure of a peace plan that was supposed to resolve the emerging crisis in the country.
According to a recent Reuters report, Saudi Arabia is planning to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the upcoming Arab League summit that will be held in Riyadh on May 19. Sources familiar with the matter told the news agency that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will make a breakthrough visit to Damascus in coming weeks to hand al-Assad a formal invitation to attend the summit.
Saudi Arabia, which once led efforts to isolate Syria, is currently making the final preparations to restore relations with the country.
The kingdom is not acting alone. Egypt raised the level of its relations with Syria after the devastating February 6 earthquake, with reports of an upcoming presidential summit between presidents al-Assad and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Tunisia also restored relations in full and announced exchanging ambassadors with Syria in a joint statement on April 12.
Other Arab states, including Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, UAE, Bahrain and Oman, voiced their support for the return of Syria to the Arab fold on several occasions over the last few years.
Today, Qatar remains the only Arab country that is vocal about its opposition to Syria’s return to the Arab League. Doha was the top Arab ally of al-Assad before the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011. However, it quickly shifted its stance in later years to become one of the main regional foes of Damascus, and a key financial, political and military backer of rebels in the country.
Al-Ansari said during his briefing that Qatar, which has previously said it had no plans to normalize ties with Damascus, has not changed its position.
“Any change in the current [Qatari] position on Syria is mainly linked to an Arab consensus, and a change on the ground that achieves the aspirations of the Syrian people,” the Qatari spokesman said.
Despite the Qatari objection, the plan to restore Syria’s membership in the Arab League could move forward in the upcoming meeting in Jeddah.
Syria’s return to the league would be the highlight of several major political shifts in the Middle East that began this year. Damascus will likely benefit from the development both politically and economically, as recent reports talked about a possible new Arab peace initiative.