Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said consensus was building in the Arab world that isolating Syria was not working and that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” to at least address humanitarian issues, including a return of refugees.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud’s remarks at a Munich security forum on Saturday mark a shift from the early years of Syria’s 12-year civil war when several Arab states including Saudi Arabia backed rebels that fought Bashar al-Assad.
“You will see not just among the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but in the Arab world there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable,” he said.
The minister said without a path towards “maximalist goals” for a political solution, another approach was “being formulated” to address the issue of Syrian refugees in neighbouring states and suffering of civilians, especially after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Türkiye.
“So that’s going to have to go through a dialogue with the government in Damascus at some point in a way that achieves at least the most important of the objectives especially as regards the humanitarian angle, the return of refugees, etc,” he said.
Asked about reports that he would visit Damascus following visits by his Emirati and Jordanian counterparts after the earthquake, Prince Faisal said he would not comment on rumours.
Riyadh has sent aid planes to government-held territory in Syria as part of earthquake relief efforts after initially sending aid only to the country’s opposition-held northwest.
Shunned by the West, Assad has been basking in an outpouring of support from Arab states that normalised ties with him in recent years, notably the United Arab Emirates which aims for Arab influence in Syria to counter that of Iran.
Other Arab states remain wary and U.S. sanctions on Syria remain a complicating factor.
Kuwait’s foreign minister told Reuters in Munich his country was not dealing with Damascus and was providing aid through international organisations and Turkey.
Asked if this stance would change, Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah said: “We are not going to change at this point in time.”
Assad has recovered control of most of Syria with support from Russia along with Iran and Iranian-backed Sh’ite Muslim groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.