Saudi Arabia Steps Back on Openness to Syrian Regime, Won’t Overlook Opposition

A source close to Saudi advisers informed Al-Modon that Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of evaluating its relationship with the Syrian regime.

It was evident that the Syrian regime was actively pushing for the normalization process with Saudi Arabia, whereas Riyadh exhibited notable hesitation in response to Damascus’ initiatives. This hesitation was evident in the delayed actions regarding the reopening of the Saudi embassy, the appointment of a new ambassador, and the handling of the Hajj issue, all without an official statement from Saudi Arabia.

Fake appointments 

The Syrian regime’s keenness to advance the normalization process is evident from the leaks originating from newspapers loyal to it, often sourced from the regime’s own intelligence. These leaks have disclosed purported dates for the arrival of the charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy in Damascus to resume consular activities and reopen the embassy doors, shut since 2012.

Since Riyadh’s official announcement in May 2023 regarding the resumption of diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime, the loyal newspaper Al-Watan has leaked more than three potential dates for the imminent opening of the Saudi embassy in Damascus and the arrival of the charge d’affaires. According to the latest scheduled appointment, the Saudi official was expected to arrive on Saturday but failed to do so.

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The Syrian regime has undertaken several measures to advance the normalization process following the official Saudi announcement. The first step was the appointment of its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, followed by the announcement of the opening of the Syrian embassy in Riyadh.

Despite this eagerness from Damascus, Riyadh has not reciprocated with any significant political gestures within Damascus and has not progressed toward normalization as initially anticipated. Instead, Riyadh’s actions have been limited to accepting the appointment of the regime’s ambassador and receiving the Syrian Minister of Awqaf. The latter’s ministry announced the receipt of the Hajj issue after 12 years, albeit amidst the denial of the opposition’s Supreme Committee for Hajj and in the absence of an official Saudi announcement.

Relationship assessment 

A source close to Saudi advisers informed Al-Modon that Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of evaluating its relationship with the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime is exerting pressure on Riyadh through its allies to expedite the relationship with the Kingdom.

The source further states that Assad is eager for the arrival of the charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy in Damascus and the reopening of the embassy promptly. Assad believes that Riyadh will provide substantial financial assistance to rescue his faltering economy. However, the source, quoting Saudi advisers, emphasizes that Riyadh’s openness is directed towards Syria as an Arab country, not specifically towards the Syrian regime. Financial support may be considered for opposition-held areas and areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), rather than being conditional on areas under Assad’s control.

Regarding recent developments, the source highlights the signing of an executive program by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center at the end of January to build 500 housing units in the city of Maraa in the northern countryside of Aleppo. This action is interpreted as a Saudi message indicating openness to Syria as a whole, not just to the Assad regime and its controlled areas—a message that Assad did not grasp.

Saudi advisers assert that their future presence in Damascus will provide a clearer understanding of the situation in Syria. They also affirm that Riyadh will not abandon the Syrian opposition nor expel individuals from its territory, according to the source.

The statement made by the Syrian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ayman Sousan, on Monday, indicates Riyadh’s continued evaluation of its relationship with Assad and his regime. Sousan mentioned that the charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy will soon be in Damascus, although he did not provide a specific date, contrasting with previous dates announced by the newspaper Al-Watan which have failed to materialize.

 

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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