Tuesday, June 8, 2021

‘Times have changed’: Saudi Arabia-Syria in rapprochement talks | Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia is close to reaching an agreement on diplomatic normalization with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, as Riyadh jockeys to play a lead role in removing the Iranian presence from Syria, Al Jazeera has been told by those with close knowledge of the discussions.

According to a senior official from the Syrian opposition Free Officer’s Movement, who maintains close contacts within the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and General Intelligence Directorate (GID), “the political mood within the House of Saud has changed, many senior royals, particularly Mohammad bin Salman [MBS] himself, are keen to reengage with Assad”.

“The prevailing attitude can be defined as, ‘times have changed, the Arab Spring is history and the region is transitioning towards a new future, with new geopolitical characteristics,’” the official, who himself recently reconciled with Damascus after defecting to the Syrian opposition in the summer of 2011, added.

The discussion with Al Jazeera came on the heels of a report in early May, which claimed Riyadh had dispatched an intelligence delegation led by GID Director General Khalid Humaidan to Damascus to engage in discussions on the possibility of detente between the two erstwhile foes. Also in May, Syria dispatched its first ministerial delegation in 10 years to Riyadh, led by the Minister of Tourism Rami Martini.

From the Syrian conflict’s earliest days, Saudi Arabia had been a key player in supporting the proxy war aimed at toppling al-Assad. Riyadh supplied an array of local rebel groups with finances and weaponry, including US-made anti-tank missiles, as part of the effort. The campaign faltered following larger counter-interventions by al-Assad’s chief foreign patrons, Russia and Iran.

However, Saudi Arabia now appears to view the corridors of power in Damascus as an expedient avenue for shoring up its broader regional interests.

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