(Photo credit: SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, said on 18 February that there is a “consensus growing” in the Arab world for a reintegration of Syria into the regional fold.
The Saudi minister stressed that the isolation of Damascus is no longer feasible, and that dialogue is needed “at some point” in order to, at the very least, address humanitarian issues such as refugee repatriation.
“You will see not just among the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but in the Arab world there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable,” Bin Farhan said at a security conference in the German city of Munich, which was held from 17 February to 19 February.
He added that a “new approach” was being devised to address the ‘suffering of civilians’ in Syria, particularly after the devastating earthquake, as well as to address the Syrian refugee crisis across the region.
“So that’s going to have to go through a dialogue with the government in Damascus at some point in a way that achieves at least the most important of the objectives especially as regards the humanitarian angle, the return of refugees, etc.”
This is despite the fact that Washington has continuously attempted to impede repatriation efforts, particularly with the refugees in Lebanon. According to several officials, this is being done to keep Syria unstable and in a state of war and occupation, as well as to keep Lebanon under political and economic pressure.
When asked if he would visit Damascus in the coming days, as was reported on 16 February, Bin Farhan said that he would not comment on ‘rumors.’
On 16 January, it was reported by Syrian media that Syria’s foreign ministry had agreed to resume imports from Saudi Arabia. A few days later, Bin Farhan said in an interview that the kingdom was ‘working towards’ engagement with the Damascus government, after over a decade of animosity and severed relations.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, Saudi Arabia sent humanitarian aid to government-held territory, despite initially only providing relief to the opposition-held north, where armed groups are notorious for misappropriating aid.
Several other Arab states rushed to Syria’s aid following the quake, despite the risk of US sanctions, prompting western media outlets to frame the disaster as a ‘boon’ that will ‘prop up’ the Syrian government and allow President Bashar al-Assad to “rehabilitate” his image.
Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar wrote that US allies “in the region are showing an increased tendency to detach from escalatory approaches [towards Damascus].” This is apparent in Bin Farhan’s comments.
However, Qatar and Kuwait remain unwilling to engage with the Syrian government.
Saudi Arabia was one of the principal instigators of the war in Syria through its support for extremist militants.
In 2010, Saudi intelligence helped Washington resurrect the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) movement, the precursor of ISIS, as part of a regime change effort targeting the Syrian government. ISI militants were active in Syria as early as 2011, while anti-government protests were still ongoing.
Riyadh has also backed Jaish al-Islam, an extremist opposition group who openly called for genocide against minorities, and have used civilians as human shields.