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Saudi Arabia, Syria May Restore Ties   03/24 06:07


   BEIRUT (AP) -- Saudi Arabia is in talks with Syria to reopen its embassy in 
the war-torn nation for the first time in a decade, state television in the 
kingdom reported late Thursday, the latest diplomatic reshuffling in the region.

   The announcement on state TV comes after Chinese-mediated talks in Beijing 
saw Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to reopen embassies in each others' nations 
after years of tensions. Syrian President Bashar Assad has maintained his grip 
on power in the Mediterranean nation rocked by the 2011 Arab Spring only with 
the help of Iran and Russia, which made a historic call earlier in the day to 

   Saudi Arabian state television aired a report late Thursday, quoting an 
anonymous official in the country's Foreign Ministry, acknowledging the talks 
between the kingdom and Damascus.

   "A source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed to Al-Ekhbariyah that 
ongoing discussions have begun with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 
commenting on what was circulated by some international media," an anchor said 
on air. "Discussions are underway between officials in the kingdom and their 
counterparts in Syria about resuming the provision of consular services."

   Arabic-language media had been reporting the possible detente in recent days 
ahead of the Saudi state TV announcement. The Wall Street Journal, quoting 
anonymous Saudi and Syrian officials, attributed the talks to reopen the 
countries' embassies to Russian mediation.

   Syrian state media did not immediately acknowledge the talks. Officials in 
both Saudi Arabia and Syria did not immediately respond to requests for comment 
from The Associated Press early Friday.

   Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Oman's Sultan 
Haitham bin Tariq, which the Kremlin called the "the first high-level bilateral 
contact since the establishment of diplomatic relations" between the nations. 
Muscat established ties with the Soviet Union in 1985.

   Oman long has been an interlocutor between the West and Iran. Recent months 
have seen talks in Oman over Yemen's long-running war, in which Saudi Arabia 
backs the country's exiled government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels 
that hold its capital, Sanaa.

   The kingdom backed the Syrian opposition against Assad during Syria's 
uprising-turned-civil war that began in 2011. However, in recent years, a 
regional rapprochement has been brewing. Last month's devastating earthquake in 
Syria and Turkey sparked international sympathy and speeded up the process, 
with Saudi and other Arab countries shipping aid to Damascus.

   Assad visited Oman in late February. He traveled Sunday to the United Arab 
Emirates, another nation that earlier had backed fighters trying to topple his 

   Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has acknowledged publicly that there is a 
growing consensus among Arab countries that dialogue with Damascus is 
necessary. Saudi Arabia is hosting the next Arab League summit in May, where 
most states hope to restore Syria's membership after it was suspended in 2011, 
the league's secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has said.

   China's and Russia's interest in the Middle East long has been a concern for 
U.S. officials, which view the the region as crucial to global energy prices 
even as America pumps more crude oil than ever before and doesn't rely on Saudi 
oil as much as it once did. Saudi Arabia has grown closer to Russia as Moscow 
has rallied allies to back production cuts by OPEC to boost global oil prices 
amid the coronavirus pandemic.

   Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia also have been at a low since 
President Joe Biden took office calling the kingdom a "pariah" over the killing 
of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The State Department and 
White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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