May 4, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9317

Online Arabic Daily 'Rai Al-Youm': After Years Of Division And Hostility, Saudi Arabia Informs Syrian President Assad It Will Renew Ties

May 4, 2021
Saudi Arabia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 9317

On May 3, 2021, the online Arabic daily Rai Al-Youm reported on that day's visit to Damascus, by a Saudi delegation headed by Saudi General Intelligence Directorate chief Khalid Al-Humaidan. At a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his special security advisor Ali Mamlouk, the sides agreed to reopen the Saudi Embassy in Damascus, as a first step toward normalizing relations between the two countries. Also according to the daily, the Saudi delegation informed Assad that Saudi Arabia would support Syria's return to the Arab League, from which it had been suspended in 2011. The daily said that the Saudis were taking this step in the context of a Saudi assessment that the U.S. is likely to return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran and to rescind its sanctions on it.

It should be noted that the report of these developments follows years of division and hostility between the two countries, due to the Saudi support for the Syrian opposition.[1] If the report is accurate, the renewal of ties will undoubtedly have significant implications for the entire Middle East.
Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (left) and Syrian President Assad (Source:, May 3, 2021)

According to the Rai Al-Youm report, and as cited by high-ranking diplomatic sources in Damascus, "a Saudi delegation headed by chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, Khalid Al Humaidan, visited the Syrian capital on May 3, 2021, and met with the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad and his special security advisor Ali Mamlouk. It was agreed [at the meeting] that after Eid Al Fitr [the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, which this year falls on May 13] the delegation would return for another visit."

The sources stated that the sides also agreed to the reopening of the Saudi Embassy in Damascus "as a first step toward renewing the relations in all the areas between the two countries," and that "the Saudi delegation informed its Syrian hosts that Saudi Arabia welcomes Syria's return to the Arab League and its attendance at the upcoming Arab League Summit in Algeria, if it takes place."

Noting that "this breakthrough in Syrian-Saudi relations follows a secret Saudi-Iranian meeting in Baghdad about two weeks ago,"[2] the report added that this also follows "the emphatic statement by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a televised interview, that his country is interested in establishing strong relations with Iran and that he wishes it prosperity as a neighboring country."[3]

"The Saudi-Syrian dispute is centered on the close and strategic Syria-Iran relationship. But now, in light of the Saudi-Iran meeting in Baghdad and the possibility that the Vienna talks will lead to the revival of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the lifting of the American sanctions on Iran, Saudi Arabia's considerations have completely changed, and its leadership has begun to take action in order to improve its relations with the Iran-Syria axis and to normalize Tehran-Riyadh relations. [This] will [also] help extricate Saudi Arabia from the crisis in Yemen as soon as possible," it said.

According to the report, the daily's sources in Syria had "revealed no additional details about the Saudi-Syrian talks, but implied that they were helpful and that they broke the ice that had characterized their relationship." It added that the Saudi authorities had frozen their relations with the Syrian opposition and with the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which represents the opposition in the political process, and had closed the HNC offices in Riyadh.[4]

It concluded: "It is not yet known whether Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal bin Farhan will head the delegation to Damascus after Eid Al Fitr, and whether he will oversee the agreement about the reopening of the Saudi Embassy in Syria or leave that task to [Saudi intelligence chief Khalid] Al-Humaidan; some believe that the delegation will be headed by [Saudi Foreign Minister] Farhan."[5]

It should be noted that in recent years MEMRI has published several reports about developments in the relationships between Arab countries and Syria, including the Saudi-Syria relationship. These include reports about the possibility of renewed relations among them, and about a Syrian return to the Arab League.

The following are some of these reports:

  1. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1476, Warm Encounter Between Arab League Secretary-General, Syrian Regime Representatives On Margins Of UNGA Reignites Speculation About Syria's Reinstatement In Arab League, October 4, 2019

  2. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7892, Syrian Opposition: Arab Rapprochement With Assad Legitimizes His Crimes, Strengthens Iran, February 15, 2019.

  3. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7432, Following The West's Attack On Syria, Sharp Dispute Breaks Out Between Egypt That Wants Assad To Remain, And Saudi Arabia That Now Wants Him Gone, April 17, 2018.

  4. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1391, Sharp Shifts In Saudi Policy On Syria Crisis: From Recognition Of Assad Regime To Willingness To Join Military Action Against Him, April 13, 2018.

  5. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1347, Egypt Draws Closer To Assad Regime: Openly Participates In Damascus International Fair, Brokers Ceasefire Agreements In Syria, September 21, 2017.

  6. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6841, In Advance Of Arab League Summit In Jordan, Calls In Arab Countries To Reinstate Syria's League Membership; Syrian Writers Reject Calls For Reinstatement, Saying Syria Will Return Only If Arab League Apologizes To It, March 23, 2017.

  7. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1215, Unprecedented Tension Between Saudi Arabia, Iran Following Execution Of Shi'ite Cleric Nimr Al-Nimr, January 4, 2016.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 688, The Resistance Camp Abandons Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and His Regime, May 13, 2011; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 725, Gulf and Arab States Break Silence over Syria Crisis, August 17, 2011; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 778, Saudi Arabia Cautiously Navigating Conflict with Iran amid Arab Spring Storm.

[2], April 18, 2021.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 28, 2021.

[4] According to various reports, the Saudis made this decision in January 2021, in the context of an internal disagreement among members of the High Negotiations Committee, although some believed that the real reason for the decision was Turkey's growing influence among the Syrian opposition. Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (London), January 21, 2021;, January 24, 2021;, February 2, 2021.

[5], May 3, 2021.

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