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Efforts underway to improve ties between Damascus, Riyadh: Assad’s top aide

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Bouthaina Shaaban, the political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Photo by SANA)

A high-ranking Syrian official says efforts are underway to improve diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia after more than a decade of estrangement between the two Arab nations.

“Efforts are being made to upgrade ties with Saudi Arabia, and may soon have positive results,” Bouthaina Shaaban, the political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told local Arabic-language Sham FM radio station on Wednesday.

She also hailed the recent visit by Syrian Tourism Minister Mohammed Rami Martini to Saudi Arabia, stating it was the first such trip by a Syrian minister to the kingdom in recent years.

Martini arrived in Riyadh on Tuesday evening to attend the 47th meeting of the World Tourism Organization Committee for the Middle East on May 26 and 27, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.

His visit came upon an official invitation from the Saudi Tourism Ministry and the World Tourism Organization Committee for the Middle East for Martini to participate in the meeting, SANA added.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief met with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus.

London-based Rai al-Youm news outlet reported that Director General of General Intelligence Directorate Lieutenant General Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan met with President Assad and Director of Syria’s National Security Bureau Ali Mamlouk on May 4 to discuss restoring diplomatic ties.

The Guardian independently confirmed that Humaidan met with Mamlouk.

Having failed to achieve any of its objectives in the Yemen war and with a change of administration in Washington, Saudi Arabia appears to be recalibrating some aspects of its regional approach, striking a more conciliatory tone with Iran and Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic relations with Damascus were severed at the outset of the foreign-sponsored devastating militancy in Syria in 2011.

Riyadh has been central to the large-scale supply of weapons and ammunition to various Takfiri militant groups wreaking havoc in Syria.

It has been primarily involved in a plan to oust Assad by arming terrorists near Damascus and encouraging defections to nearby Jordan, from where the Saudi leadership had expected the United States to launch a push by its mercenaries to take the Syrian capital.

Saudi Arabia has also financed a large purchase of infantry weapons, including M79 Osa anti-tank weapons and Yugoslav-made M-60 recoilless rifles, from Croatia via shipments shuttled through Jordan.

The weapons began reaching Takfiri militants in December 2012, which allowed them to score small tactical gains against Syrian army forces.

Riyadh has backed several terror groups in Syria, including the so-called Jaysh al-Islam, Free Syrian Army, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement as well as the Army of Conquest.

While Saudi Arabia has had no relations with Syria for more than a decade, its two regional allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain moved to consolidate ties and reopened their embassies in 2018.

Oman, which had kept its embassy open, returned its ambassador last year.

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