Sunday Territorian

Syria joins new Middle East alliance


RIYADH: Arab leaders have gathered in Saudi Arabia to discuss normalisin­g relations with Syria’s Assad regime as the West’s regional allies defy the US and move to create an alliance of autocracie­s.

The meeting of ministers from the key Western allies, including Egypt and Jordan, was called by Saudi Arabia, which has reversed its position on President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal Mekdad last week made the first visit by a senior Damascus official to Saudi Arabia since the start of the civil war. The two sides announced a resumption of flights and consular services, which is likely to be a preliminar­y step towards restoring full diplomatic relations.

The ministers meeting in Jeddah discussed re-admitting Syria to the Arab League. Syria was suspended when Assad refused to compromise with protests against his regime in 2012.

Qatar opposes the moves but the discussion­s are a sign of a further shift in the Arab world in general, and the Gulf in particular, away from reliance on the US as the arbiter of internatio­nal relations. The US, Britain and other Western countries reject any “normalisat­ion” with the Assad regime.

Mr Mekdad’s visit coincided with a visit by an Iranian delegation to prepare the reopening of Tehran’s embassy in Riyadh.

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran were broken seven years ago. Since then they have supported opposing sides in conflicts across the region, most notably in Yemen. After a Chinese-brokered rapprochem­ent between Riyadh and Tehran last month, that conflict may also be ending.

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