On April 18, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after arriving in Damascus on a highly-anticipated official visit.
The visit is the first by a Saudi official to Syria’s capital since the outbreak of the war in the country more than a decade ago.
Prince Faisal was welcomed at Damascus International Airport by Minister of Presidency Affairs Mansour Azzam, and later met with al-Assad at the Republican Palace.
In a statement, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said that Prince Faisal’s visit falls within the framework of “the kingdom’s keenness and interest to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that ends all its repercussions and preserves Syria’s unity, security, stability, and its Arab identity, and restores it to its Arab surroundings, in a way that achieves the good of its brotherly people.”
President al-Assad told the Saudi minister during their meeting that Arab states should play a key role in “supporting the Syrian people, liberating all the Syrian territories, stabilizing the situation, and overcoming the consequences of the war on Syria,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News agency.
Unverified reports said that Prince Faisal delivered an official invitation for al-Assad to visit the kingdom in the near future during the meeting.
Saudi Arabia backed the rebels in Syria early on in the war. In later years, the kingdom adopted a more pragmatic policy on the crisis, moving away from the aggressive stance of its allies in the United States and the European Union.
Prince Faisal’s visit comes days after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, on the first such trip since 2011.
Riyadh and Damascus announced an agreement to reopen embassies and resume direct flights after the breakthrough visit. In addition, foreign ministers of the Gulf Arab states and their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq also held a summit in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah to discuss Syria’s possible return to the Arab fold.
While it is still unclear if Syria will be invited to the next Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia, there is no doubt that the country’s regional isolation has come to an end. The Syrian foreign minister paid two official visits to Algeria and Tunisia in recent days, and is set to visit Iraq in the near future.