The Arab summit in Saudi Arabia bringing Assad back to the diplomatic front
The Syrian President Bashar al Assad is likely to participate Friday in the Arab summit to be held in Jeddah, following diplomatic efforts that led to returning Damascus to its Arab surroundings after more than 11 years of isolation against the background of the devastating conflict in this country.
Assad’s possible participation is a major step towards ending his Arab isolation, more than a decade after Damascus was suspended after its suppression of protests that turned into a bloody conflict that claimed the lives of more than half a million people.
Experts said that his invitation to participate in the Jeddah summit also shows the influence of Saudi Arabia, which is currently promoting itself as a peacemaker in the region, after it overcame the objections of a number of countries, including Qatar, to return Syria to the Arab League during talks in Cairo earlier this month.
In addition to the normalization of relations with Assad, two major crises are expected to top the agenda of the summit: the month-long conflict in Sudan between the army commander, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, and the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, and the conflict in Yemen that has been going on for more than 8 years.
The summit will be held in Jeddah, where representatives of the two Sudanese parties have been negotiating for about ten days, in talks sponsored by US and Saudi officials.
In Yemen, Saudi Arabia is pushing for a peace agreement with the Houthis, eight years after it led a military coalition that was unable to defeat them on the battlefield.
The shuttle Saudi diplomatic efforts in the two issues didn’t lead to a major breakthrough, but Saudi analysts and opinion writers are optimistic.
These recent diplomatic shifts have accelerated thanks to a surprising Chinese-brokered agreement to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on March 10.
Less than two weeks later, Saudi Arabia announced that it had begun talks about resuming consular services with Syria, a close ally of Iran, before announcing the decision to reopen its missions in this country, in a move that witnessed the exchange of foreign ministers of the two countries for the first time in more than a decade.
However, the possible presence of Assad in Jeddah on Friday does not guarantee progress in resolving the war in Syria.
Nor is it clear if the Arab League will succeed in its efforts on urgent issues such as the fate of Syrian refugees and the Captagon trade, which Damascus is accused of supporting.