April 18, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10567

Editor Of Pro-Hizbullah Lebanese Daily: The Rapprochement Between Syria And The Arab States Is Taking Place At The Behest Of The Latter And On Syria's Terms

April 18, 2023
Lebanon, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 10567

On April 12, 2023, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad made a historic visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during which he met with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan. This visit – the first since 2011, when Saudi Arabia cut its relations with Syria over the Assad regime's brutal suppression of the popular protests against it  – was perceived as marking the resumption of the relations between the two countries.[1]   Moreover, the visit was the climax so far in a broader rapprochement between the Syrian regime and several Arab states, chief of them Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which gained momentum in the recent weeks, especially since the earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey in February.[2]

The day after the visit, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, came out with the front-page headline "The Arabs [Are Flocking] to Syria  – On Syria's Terms," and also devoted a special section  to this topic. 

Front page of Al-Akhbar's April 13 issue: "The Arabs [Are Flocking] to Syria  – On Syria's Terms"

This section included an article by the daily's editor, Ibrahim Al-Amin, titled "Syria Is at the Heart of the Arab Arena – On Its Own Terms!", which sought to refute in advance any claim that Syria had made concessions in return for the Arab rapprochement. Al-Amin  stressed that the warming of relations had been initiated by this regime's former rivals, headed by Saudi Arabia. He added that Syria is the one dictating the terms for the renewal of the relations, and had even refused the main terms that its rivals had tried to set out, such as severing its relations with Iran or changing its stance on resistance against Israel and on the war in Yemen.  The article also stated that the Syrian regime rejects any external interference in its affairs, i.e., any calls for reform or for dialogue with the opposition.

According to Al-Amin, even Qatar, the only Arab state that is openly still reluctant to renew the relations with Syria, is secretly considering this option, and has even reached out through Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, but Assad rejected its advances.

It should be mentioned that Miqdad's visit took place two days before the meeting of the GCC foreign ministers in Jeddah, which was also attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. The Arab press assessed that the meeting was meant to prepare the ground for renewing Syria's membership in the Arab League,  which was suspended in 2011, and that Assad will be invited to the Arab Summit in Riyadh this May.[3] However, the meeting's closing statement made no mention of Syria's return to the Arab League. Moreover, the statement indicated a gap between the positions of Syria and those of the other Arab states, since it called to limit Iran's influence in Syria by "ending the presence of the armed militias and the external interference in Syria's internal affairs," and for reaching a political solution to the Syria crisis that preserves Syria's integrity, security, stability and "Arab identity," so as to return it to "its Arab environment." The statement also called to facilitate the return of the Syrian refugees and displaced persons to their home districts.[4]

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Amin's article:[5]

The Arabs Are Courting Syria; It Is The One Who Will Decide Whether To Forgive Its Rivals, And Will Not Give Up Its Principles

Al-Amin wrote: "…In the recent years, there has been a wave of direct or mediated contacts between Arab, regional and Western capitals [on the one hand] and Syria [on the other], which increased following the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey. An official in Damascus confirmed this, saying, 'They are contacting us in secret, but they are afraid of angering the Americans. We are not asking anyone to do more than he can bear, but [at the same time] nobody can dictate terms to us. For a decade we dealt with a situation none of them could have withstood, and managed to endure. We are the ones who have created our own Arab role.'"

Al-Amin added that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had recently told the Arab leaders, envoys and mediators that his country was not seeking reinstatement in the Arab League, and that, although he would not turn down an invitation to an Arab summit or gathering, neither would he compromise on principles in return for this. The official quoted the Syrian  president as saying, "Damascus is the one entitled to forgive countries and elements who played a significant role in the war [against it] and were party to spilling Arab blood. It is a mistake to think that Syria is willing to dialogue with any country about its internal situation. It will not allow anyone to mediate contacts between it and any Syrian element that seeks to return to the homeland on its own terms. There is no room for dialogue about Syria's internal affairs."

Al-Amin stated further that "in the last two months, the mediators worked hard. The UAE tried to perform a special role, but its hands were tied by the U.S. on the one hand and Saudi Arabia on the other. Oman tried to mediate between Damascus and prominent countries like Saudi Arabia and even the U.S., while Russia and Iran mediated [between Syria] and Turkey. [Other] influential Arab states [also] took action, albeit not very significant action, including Egypt, which wants to coordinate its activity with Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, which no longer has the influence it once had."

Syrian Officials Met With American And Saudi Officials In Oman; Qatar's Advances Were Rebuffed

Al-Amin said, citing "knowledgeable sources," that Oman hosted some important meetings between Syrian, Saudi and American officials, and the contacts between Syria and Saudi Arabia soon turned into direct dialogue in Riyadh on security matters. The latter talks paved the way to higher-level political contacts, as reflected by the visit of Syrian Foreign Minister Al-Miqdad in Jeddah. In addition, envoys from various countries reportedly made visits to Syria, with Lebanese mediation, to discuss many security-related issues. 

According to the same knowledgeable sources, said Amin, these elements are aware that the isolation of Syria has utterly failed, and now they want it to pay a price for renewing its relations with various countries, thinking that Syria is eager to expedite two processes: the renewal of the official relations with Turkey and its return to the Arab League. "The Turks were amazed by the position of Assad, who told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he was not opposed to a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but that Turkey must announce a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from Syria and take measures on the ground indicating its seriousness in this context. These are the factors still delaying the direct talks between Syria and Turkey. As for the Arab states, Assad said to all the Arab officials he met that he was in no hurry to return to the Arab League, since he did not believe in its ability to achieve anything, but that he was willing to regulate the bilateral relations with the Arab countries without preconditions."

Al-Amin stressed that "the Qataris are indeed taking firm positions against Syria's return [to the Arab League]," but that an senior official had told the daily "things that are not stated openly," namely that "the Qataris contacted Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to discuss the renewal of relations with the Syrian leadership, but Assad was not eager [to respond]." 

Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman Leading The Renewal Of Relations With Syria

Regarding Saudi Arabia, Al-Amin wrote that it had tried to hold talks with Syria on multiple issues related to the situation in the Arab world and to relations with regional countries, and that, "like others, it suggested that Assad drop his alliance with Iran and with the forces of the resistance axis in return for significant political and economic openness towards Syria, and also mentioned issues related to internal political reforms in Syria. In addition, Saudi Arabia tried to get Syria to align its positions on the war in Yemen with those of the Arab League, and even tried to convince Assad to expel the current Yemeni ambassador [representing the Houthi Ansar Allah movement] from Damascus and to place the [Yemeni] embassy in the hands of the Aden government, which is subordinate to the Arab-American coalition [fighting] in Yemen. But Assad rejected this too. Even with regards to Palestine, some thought that Assad's negative position towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas would help them to [get him to change] his position on the Palestinian resistance. But Assad, for whom renewing the relations with Hamas had not easy, had [already] made his decision and said that his position on any Palestinian movement or faction depended [only] on the status of that movement or faction in the resistance axis [that opposes the Israeli] occupation. Therefore, the relations with Hamas were quickly renewed, whereas [Assad's] position on other matters remained unchanged.

Al-Amin continued: "The recent development [that changed the picture] is that Saudi Arabia adopted a new strategy of zero problems and rushed to sign an agreement with Iran that would allow it to expedite the end of hostilities in Yemen and renew the direct, high-level relations with Syria. And this is in addition to the Saudi-Egyptian agreement on returning Syria to the Arab League. Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman wants [to implement this], now that he has received the backing, even if only formal, of his GCC allies and of other countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Qatar is the only one still holding out. Kuwait is somewhat reluctant, but Bin Salman can handle this."

Al-Amin concluded by saying, "Tomorrow we will hear many interpretations and assessments regarding the implications of this measure [the rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia], and Syria's rivals will launch their usual media campaign, saying that [Syria] has made concessions. But anyone who follows the facts on the ground and the reality in Syria knows that what is happening is an Arab attempt to [court] Syria, not the other way around."


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), Al-Arab (London), April 13, 2023.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 14, 2023; Al-Arab (London), Al-Ghad (Jordan), April 12, 2012.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 16, 2023.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 13, 2023.

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