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Arab Countries Divided on Syria's Return: Some Welcome, Others Reject

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held a consultative meeting to discuss the Syrian situation and exchange views on the possibility of Syria's return to the Arab League. 

The meeting took place in the Saudi city of Jeddah on the night of Friday, April 14th, with the participation of foreign ministers from the GCC countries, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.

After the meeting, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a final statement indicating that the consultative meeting was held at the invitation of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan and described the meeting as an "informal consultation session."

The foreign ministers of the participating countries in the meeting stressed the importance of having an "Arab leadership role" in the efforts to end the Syrian crisis and the need for a "political solution" that would end all forms of war and preserve Syria's unity and Arab identity.

Also, they emphasized the importance of ending the humanitarian crises, providing appropriate circumstances for aid delivery to all areas in Syria, and creating the necessary prerequisites for the safe return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to their regions.

In addition, the statement highlighted the critical need to combat terrorism in all its forms and organizations and to fight against drug trafficking and its trade. Additionally, it underscored that state institutions must prioritize preserving Syria's sovereignty on its territory to end the presence of armed militias and external interference in Syria's internal affairs.

This meeting comes after some Arab countries received Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad for the first time since Syria's membership in the League was suspended in 2011, following an emergency meeting in Cairo and about eight months after the outbreak of protests that turned into a civil war.

After the earthquake disaster in February of this year, there were indications that relations between Syria and some Arab countries were beginning to improve. Assad visited Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and many other Arab countries providing aid to Syria, such as Egypt, Libya. Jordan, and Iraq.

As for Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Foreign Minister received the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, a few days ago on his first official visit to Saudi Arabia since the severance of relations between the two countries in 2012, ahead of the Jeddah Consultative Meeting.

During the meeting, the two sides “discussed the necessary steps to achieve a comprehensive political settlement for the Syrian crisis that would end all its ramifications, achieve national reconciliation, contribute to Syria's return to its Arab environment, and resume its natural role in the Arab world,” as stated in a joint press statement at the end of the visit.

The statement emphasized the need to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis and to resolve outstanding issues such as addressing humanitarian difficulties, securing a safe return for displaced persons and refugees, enhancing security, combating terrorism, and preventing the smuggling and trafficking of drugs. They also expressed their satisfaction with the resumption of consular services and air travel between the two countries.

Syria's Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, met his Algerian counterpart, Ahmed Attaf, last Saturday, April 15th, in Algeria. In a statement to the press upon his arrival at the international airport in Algiers, Mekdad said, "No matter what we say, we cannot describe the important role that Algeria plays at various levels." He added that his visit to Algeria was "to express Syria's gratitude for Algeria's support, especially in recent events" and that "relations between Algeria and Syria are continuing, and we need to strengthen those relations."

Moreover, Mekdad arrived in the Tunisian capital, where he was received by the Tunisian Foreign Minister, on a working visit to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

Syria and Tunisia announced on Sunday that "in response to Tunisian President Kais Saied's initiative to appoint an ambassador to his country in Damascus, Syria has decided to reopen its embassy in Tunisia and appoint an ambassador to head it in the near future."

The two sides stressed that "in order to restore Syrian-Tunisian relations to their natural course, consultations and coordination between the foreign ministers of both countries continue, in dedication to the deep-rooted fraternal ties that bind Syria and Tunisia, and to uphold the values of solidarity and mutual support between them, for the good and benefit of their sisterly peoples."

This visit comes after Syria and Tunisia agreed last Wednesday, April 12th, to reopen their embassies after eleven years of Tunisia cutting relations. Mekdad's visit is expected to confirm and implement this agreement.

It is also expected that Al-Miqdad will continue his visit after Tunisia and head toward Iraq, which had welcomed the Saudi-Syrian joint statement and any efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis through peaceful means, and expressed its “readiness to coordinate with world countries to facilitate Syria's return to its Arab embrace,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, other Arab countries have announced reservations and rejection of Syria's return to the Arab League. The Wall Street Journal reported, citing Arab officials, that at least five members of the Arab League, including Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, and Yemen, still refuse to allow Syria to return to the Arab League.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani stated that Qatar still refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Syria unless there is a political resolution to the Syrian crisis. He also claimed that reasons for cutting ties with Syria still exist.

“These reasons remain valid, at least for us in Qatar. The Syrian people are still displaced, and there are innocent people in prisons, although the war has stopped."

In addition to Qatar, the official Egyptian position "still includes some basic principles in dealing with the Syrian crisis, such as supporting efforts to reach a comprehensive political settlement to the crisis under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254." This statement comes from a report by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed regarding obstacles in the way of normalizing relations between Egypt and Syria.

Egyptian diplomatic sources told "Al-Araby Al-Jadeed" that these principles remain a priority "despite the visit of the Syrian regime's foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, to Cairo for the first time in about ten years, and the reception of his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry (on April 1st), which represents an indicator of repairing relations between some Arab countries and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad."

Furthermore, the former assistant to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ambassador Rokhah Ahmed Hassan, told "Al-Araby Al-Jadeed" that "Egypt's position towards Syria is not new," noting that it "changed almost since 2014."

He explained that "during the Muslim Brotherhood's rule of Egypt, relations were severed with several Arab countries, including Syria, and after 2014, communication began again in the form of protecting interests, and Egypt helped Syria, in some situations, to deliver foodstuffs to some areas in coordination and cooperation with the Syrian government."

The Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah, expressed a similar position to Qatar and Egypt, stating that his country "will not deviate from the Arab consensus on Syria, but the Syrian government must take steps to build confidence, such as releasing prisoners, disclosing the fate of the missing, facilitating the return of refugees, facilitating the delivery of aid to those in need, and resuming the work of the constitutional committee, leading to national reconciliation."

According to The Wall Street Journal, Morocco wants to see Assad end his support for the Polisario Front, a rebel movement that fights Rabat for the independence of Western Sahara. The American newspaper also stated, "Even the internationally recognized Yemeni government, based in Riyadh, has backed away from its Saudi allies," citing "Syrian support for the Houthi rebels."

In an interview with the official Algerian channel, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad stated that his country's priority is "to repair relations between Arab countries, as it is the real path to make Arab cooperation useful."

He also noted that his recent visits to some Arab countries came at the desire of all parties to turn the page on what we have been through and open a new chapter in Arab-Arab relations to confront the challenges that target our countries. He claimed that most Arab countries now understand that the path of Arab joint action is the only way to safeguard the rights of Arabs and protect them from Western interference in their internal affairs.

It is clear that there is a division of opinion among Arabs regarding the return of Syria, under the presidency of Bashar Al-Assad, to the Arab League after its absence since 2011. However, the region has recently witnessed breakthroughs in many complex files, such as the return of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the beginning of ceasefire negotiations and prisoner exchange in Yemen, the resumption of diplomatic relations between Qatar and Bahrain, and progress in restoring ties between Turkey and Egypt.

These quick reconciliations may make the issue of Syria's return to the Arab League closer than ever before. Still, it will not be challenging, for the initial division in Syria was severe and complex, and the Syrian issue includes many countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran. In addition, there is also the need to convince Western countries, in general, to normalize relations with Assad.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia tried to expedite their return when it received Mekdad and called for a meeting in Jeddah a month before the upcoming Arab summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.


Edited By: Ashelyn Wagner

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Tags: #Syria #politicalsolution #ArabLeague #GulfCooperationCouncil


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