Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago, state television in the kingdom reported late Thursday.
The announcement on state TV comes after Chinese talks in Beijing saw Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to reopen embassies in each others’ nations after years of tensions. Syrian President Bashar Assad has maintained his grip on power in the Mediterranean nation rocked by the 2011 Arab Spring only with the help of Iran and Russia, which made a historic call earlier in the day to Oman.
The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus would mark the most significant development yet in moves by Arab states to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria’s civil war began in 2011.
The two governments were “preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr”, a Muslim holiday in the second half of April, a regional source said.
The decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one of the regional sources and a diplomat in the Gulf.
The Saudi government’s communication office, the kingdom’s foreign ministry, and the Syrian government did not respond to requests for comment.
Saudi state television later confirmed that talks were ongoing with the Syrian foreign ministry to resume consular services, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“A source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed to Al-Ekhbariyah that ongoing discussions have begun with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on what was circulated by some international media,” an anchor said on air. “Discussions are underway between officials in the kingdom and their counterparts in Syria about resuming the provision of consular services.”
Remember that Syrian state media did not immediately acknowledge the talks. Officials in both Saudi Arabia and Syria did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The apparently sudden breakthrough could indicate how the deal between Tehran and Riyadh may play into other crises in the region, where their rivalry has fuelled conflicts including the war in Syria.
The United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has opposed moves by regional countries to normalize ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution.
When asked about the rapprochement, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. “stance on normalization remains unchanged” and that it would not encourage other countries to normalize ties with Assad.