The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and foreign ministers of Arab states have concluded that a political solution is the only way to end the conflict and crisis in Syria, holding off from allowing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad back into the fold of the Arab League.
Saudi Arabia this week hosted a meeting between GCC foreign ministers and their counterparts from other Arab states such as Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt in the coastal city of Jeddah, during which they “discussed the efforts that aim to reach a political solution…which preserves Syria’s unity, security, stability and Arab identity and that brings Syria back to the Arab fold,” according to a statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
The ministers agreed on the importance of implementing “conditions to pave way toward the return of displaced citizens and refugees to their areas and to end their suffering.” The statement and meeting concluded that a “political solution is the only solution to the Syrian crisis”, as well as highlighting that it is “important that there is a leading Arab role in these efforts aimed at ending the crisis.”
Despite not yet agreeing to readmit Damascus back into the Arab League, the foreign ministers and the conclusion of the meeting seemed to be largely positive toward the Assad regime. They not only reaffirmed the necessity to combat terrorism and drug trafficking in the region, but also agreed that Syria’s state institutions have the responsibility of maintaining the regime’s sovereignty by ending the presence of armed militias and foreign interferences in the country’s internal affairs.
The meeting came amid Arab states’ increasing normalisation of ties with the Assad regime, most of which were cut off since its brutal crackdown on Syrian protestors in 2011 and the subsequent outbreak of the ongoing civil war.
As the war has largely been pushed to the north-west of the country and the regime has regained most of its territory, countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Mauritania have restored their ties with Syria in recent years, with the latest being Tunisia this month.
There have also been indications other states are considering restoring full ties with Damascus, with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visiting Saudi Arabia this week in the first such visit since 2011, following talks between the two countries regarding the resumption of their consular services last month.
Despite the thaw of Syria’s isolation and the warming of relations, however, there was reportedly significant pushback against Assad’s return to the Arab League by at least five member states. According to the Wall Street Journal, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar and Yemen were amongst those who opposed such a return.
There was also reportedly a pushback against Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Syria, with the Financial Times citing anonymous Arab officials as saying that the likes of Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan “all asked…what are you [Saudi Arabia] getting from them [Syrian regime]? ”