He who endures wins. And that could be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After 12 hard years of “loneliness”, the internationally isolated Syrian president returns to the international scene. Starting with the Arab League, from which he was expelled in 2011 following the civil war in Syria.
In recent years, however, Assad has now regained control of most of Syria, forcing the Arab states – led by Saudi Arabia – who had supported Assad’s opponents during the civil war, to reach out to him again. On April 18, in fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia went to Syria for the first time and was received by Assad. The enemy of yesterday and the day before yesterday arrived in Damascus, holding an olive branch for the occasion, in the form of financial aid for the reconstruction of Syria and an invitation to return to the Arab League .
Assad will likely take part in the Arab summit, scheduled for Riyadh on May 19, and will soon be the official guest of the Saudi kingdom. However, there is still some resistance, especially from Qatar, but this is also expected to ease.
For the hitherto reclusive Syrian president, there is another victory in efforts to normalize relations with Arab neighbors: the foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq have met their Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Mekdad, in Amman. The meeting focused on the Syrian civil war and the normalization of relations with the Assad government, as announced by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. “This meeting is the start of an Arab-led political process to find a solution to the crisis,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said.
To seal the deal, as stated in the official statement, the two governments officially pledged to facilitate – through Saudi funds – the return to their homeland of the six million Syrian refugees and to create the “conditions for a process of reconciliation. Already, after the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt, last week and Tunisia also announced the full restoration of diplomatic relations with Damascus.
For many, there is something quite incomprehensible in the acceleration of the process of normalizing diplomatic relations between Damascus and the rest of the Arab regimes. With a regime accused of killing half a million civilians, whatever logical factors some analysts invoke to explain this reversal, things are muddled. This development confirms once again the new international position of Saudi Arabia after the historic agreement with Iran backed by China and the start of negotiations to end the war in Yemen. Assad’s return is undoubtedly a consequence of Saudi Arabia’s new political rapprochement with Tehran. Iran is much better established in Syria and relations between the two regimes are very stable. The Assad regime has not only severed its ties with Tehran over the years, but strengthened them in every way. After all, Iran and Russia saved the Assad regime during the civil war.
The normalization of Riyadh’s relations with Damascus is part of the new regional policy promoted by the crown prince of the Saudi world, Mohammed bin Salman. “MBS”, for its friends and its detractors, now pursues a foreign policy increasingly autonomous and distant from the wishes of the United States – traditional ally of Riyadh since 1945.
This development has caused intense irritation in the White House. Riyadh’s new relationship with Iran and Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s neutrality towards Russia, and now rapprochement with Damascus, once again threaten to derail US plans for “normalization” in the Middle East.
The role of the crown prince
In the eyes of the crown prince, the Saudi-led stabilization of the region is a central part of his “Vision 2030” domestic reform plan.
“In this context, the prince is trying to balance between the United States, China and Russia,” says Gerald Feirstein, a former American diplomat who now heads the MEI think tank in Washington.
This balance serves the main objective of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia: to transform the oil monarchy into a modern state. The successor needs a lot of money for this. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Saudi economic advisers warned the government in Riyadh months ago that major projects could only be financed with consistently high oil prices. Already, oil prices have risen more than 5% since Saudi Arabia and its OPEC+ partners cut daily production by a million barrels. MBS also wants to develop its own nuclear industry in Saudi Arabia. Which could trigger a nuclear war in the Middle East. In January, Riyadh announced that Saudi Arabia’s uranium reserves would be used for future nuclear power plants and for exports. “The United States is reluctant to cede nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia because MBS does not want to rule out military use,” writes the New York Times. This is why Riyadh is now turning to other potential suppliers, including Western countries as well as China and Russia.
The United States is worried. But those concerns don’t matter to the de facto Saudi leader. Mohammed bin Salman once said he doesn’t care what Joe Biden thinks. And that’s how it works…