Sudanese President Ahmad Al-Bashir visited his Syrian counterpart President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus yesterday, becoming the first Arab leader to visit the country since the conflict broke out in 2011.
The surprise one-day visit saw Al-Bashir hosted at the presidential palace, where the two heads of state reportedly discussed strengthening bilateral relations and the latest developments in Syria and the region.
“President Al-Assad and President Al-Bashir affirmed that the circumstances and crises experienced by many Arab countries require new approaches for Arab action, based on respecting the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs,” a statement released by the Syrian presidency read.
President Al-Bashir was also quoted as affirming the importance of Syria’s sovereignty: “Sudan is keen on the stability, security and territorial integrity of Syria under its legitimate leadership and peaceful dialogue between all components … Sudan will continue to make efforts until Syria recovers and returns to Arab community.”
Al-Assad concluded by thanking Al-Bashir for his visit and emphasised that this trip would give strong momentum to restore relations between the two countries to “the way it was before the war on Syria”.
The visit is the first of any regional head since the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 in response to the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters. However, Khartoum refused to sever ties with Damascus even as the conflict descended into a civil war.
Whilst the reason for Al-Bashir’s visit was not disclosed, it is one of many diplomatic efforts made by the Assad regime as the war in the country appears to wind down.
Earlier this month in an interview with an Omani newspaper, the Syrian premier revealed that Oman had “been understandable to the dimensions of the war in Syria”, and praised its decision to also maintain ties with Damascus despite the conflict. The statement came as the Syrian and Omani foreign ministers met in the Syrian capital to discuss ideas for ending the seven-year war.
In October, President Al-Assad had also told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility, adding that Arab and Western delegations had started to visit the country to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic missions.
A week later, the Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria officially opened to civilians and trade for the first time since it was closed three years ago. The Syrian government successfully retook the area around the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in July after a Russian-backed offensive expelled opposition groups from their stronghold in the southwest of the country.
The Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart had also turned heads in September after they greeted each other with a hug on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Al-Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.
Al-Bashir’s visit also came on the same day as Turkey, a long-time supporter of the Syrian opposition, said that it would consider working with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad if he won a democratic election.
The Sudanese president, who returned to Khartoum last night, has led the country since 1989 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against his own people during his 30-year rule.