“Times have changed”: Saudi Arabia’s reconciliation talks with Syria | Bashar al-Assad News

People familiar with the matter told Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia is about to reach an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad’s government on the normalization of diplomacy as Riyadh seeks to play a leading role in the withdrawal of Iran from Syria.

According to a senior official of the Syrian Opposition Free Officers Movement, which maintains close ties with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the General Directorate of Intelligence (GID), “The political sentiment of the Saudi royal family has changed. Man [MBS] He himself is keen to reconnect with Assad.”

“The general attitude can be defined as,’The times have changed, the Arab Spring has become history, and the region is transitioning to a new future with new geopolitical characteristics,'” the official recently reconciled with Damascus after defecting to Syria . Objected in the summer of 2011, added.

Discussions with Al Jazeera followed report In early May, it was claimed that Riyadh had sent an intelligence delegation led by GID Director-General Khalid Humaidan (Khalid Humaidan) to Damascus to discuss the possibility of easing between the two former enemies.Also in May, Syria send A ministerial delegation headed by Tourism Minister Rami Martini visited Riyadh for the first time in 10 years.

From the Syrian conflict Earliest daysSaudi Arabia has been a key participant in supporting the proxy war aimed at overthrowing Assad.Riyadh provides funds and weapons to a range of local rebel groups, including those made in the United States Anti-tank missile, As part of the effort. However, after Assad’s main foreign patrons, Russia and Iran, carried out a larger counter-intervention, the movement faltered.

However, in the strange turn of fate characteristic of international relations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia now seems to regard Damascus’s power corridor as an expedient measure to support its broader regional interests.

“Relieve Tension in Iran”

An official from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Damascus who was familiar with the recent talks with Riyadh said: “MBS is working to ease tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran through contacts with Syria.”

According to the official, “MBS instructed his team to assure Syria that he does not want regime change against Bashar, and Syria, as a brotherly Arab country, should naturally be close to Saudi Arabia.”

The official claimed that this was “obviously also to send a signal to the Iranian leader” that Riyadh “recognizes the side of the war… [Iran] The Korean won is the most invested and will not try to challenge this reality.”

Although the official refused to confirm, he also mentioned that Iran might attend the Damascus meeting. He said, “Let’s say that the Iranians immediately welcome what they have heard.”

Due to their sensitivity to this issue, both sources spoke with Al Jazeera under anonymity.

In May, Iraqi President Barham Saleh Confirmation report Beginning in April, Saudi Arabia and Iran held bilateral talks in Baghdad to ease the brewing tension. Allegedly, these discussions are mainly (but not exclusively) focused on resolving the Yemen war, where the Royal Saudi Air Force has been conducting air strikes against Houthi rebels allied with Iran since mid-2015.

An official from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reluctant to comment to Al Jazeera on whether the Damascus talks focused on improving relations with Iran, but did say that “it’s time to accept that Syria is an indelible part of Iran. The Arab landscape.”

However, while seeking to ease tensions with Iran to avoid a military conflict, Saudi Arabia’s efforts also constitute the rebirth of the Sunni Gulf monarchy that has sought to separate Syria from Tehran’s strategic orbit for decades.

Now, as the Syrian civil war recedes, it has become more urgent for Iran to continue to benefit from the post-conflict benefits of its intervention by establishing a deep and influential organization. Foothold Spanning government-controlled regions, especially in the form of a huge quasi-national network Shia militias and institutions.

According to the close figures of the Free Officers Movement, “Saudi officials asked [Syrian] The government stated that they want to restore normalization of relations, but any support for Syria in the diplomatic field requires signs that Assad is seriously considering reducing Iran’s influence in Damascus… expelling Iranian militias and ending [Iran’s] And Hezbollah uses Syria as a huge military base. “

However, even if Assad has the political will to do so, it is questionable whether he is capable of destroying Iran’s vast network of proxy militias, and he needs their help to stop the remnants of armed opponents.

As the Syrian analyst Samir Altaqi recently wrote, “The Syrian army is fragmented and weak…Assad cannot replace or even fight against the much-needed and deeply entrenched pro-Iranian forces in Syria.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad survived the uprising against him [SANA via Reuters]

‘Hidden political influence’

According to officials of the Free Officers Movement, the Saudis now seem to have accepted this strategic reality and have proposed a compromise position to the Syrian government regarding the existence of Iran.

“Saudi Arabia recognizes that Iran will continue to have secret political influence in Damascus as it did in Baghdad, but they and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] It is hoped that Assad will press Iran to at least reduce its accumulation of strategic military assets, such as missile storage and production bases. “

The dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Syria is the most recent Meetings facilitated by Russia There were talks between representatives of the Israeli and Syrian governments, and Iran’s military presence was also discussed.

According to officials from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riyadh “thinks that our talks with the Israelis may be a prelude to backstage talks with the United States, especially when the new Biden administration wants to leave the Middle East and may, therefore, accept the status quo in Syria.”

However, an official of the Biden National Security Council poured cold water on the idea of ??any reconciliation with the Assad government.

“The United States supports free and fair elections in Syria as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We will not legitimize the brutal Assad regime. Our allies in the region will do what they believe is in the interests of national security. However, we believe that it is in their best interest not to contact Assad,” said the US official, who also asked not to be named.

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