Syria’s rapprochement advances with Tunisia, Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (AP) – Syria will reopen its embassy in Tunisia, state media reported Wednesday, as Syria’s top diplomat visited Saudi Arabia seeking to restore ties that have been severed for more than a decade.

Tunisia has become the latest Arab state to reestablish diplomatic ties with Syria, after cutting off relations in 2012. Tunisian President Kais Saied announced earlier this month that he had directed the country’s foreign ministry to appoint a new ambassador to Syria.

His move to appoint a new ambassador to Syria was reciprocated by the Syrian government, a joint statement from the two countries’ foreign ministries said Wednesday, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

The announcement was the latest in a regional trend of rapprochement with the war-torn country, which has picked up pace since the massive Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered reestablishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Syria was widely shunned by Arab governments over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters and later civilians in an uprising turned civil war that began in 2011. The breakdown in relations culminated with Syria being ousted from the Arab League. Tunis shut down its embassy in Damascus in 2012.

Earlier this year, Assad visited Oman and the United Arab Emirates, two nations that had backed fighters trying to topple his government. The Syrian government is reportedly in talks with Saudi Arabia to reopen their embassies in Damascus and Riyadh.

A delegation headed by Syria’s foreign minister arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for talks about bilateral relations between the two countries, Syrian state media reported, the first such visit since 2012.

Saudi state media reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad was received by the kingdom’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji. The meeting focused on “efforts to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that preserves Syria’s unity, security and stability, facilitates the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland and secures the delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected areas in Syria.”

Saudi Arabia is hosting the next Arab League summit in May, where most states hope to restore Syria’s membership, the league’s secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has said.

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