Two remarkable events took place in the Arab summit held, Friday, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, represented by the presence of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, after an Arab estrangement that lasted 12 years, as well as the surprising participation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The presence of Zelensky, whose country is experiencing the devastating effects of the war waged by Russia, in February of last year, constituted a remarkable contrast, especially with the attendance of Assad, who has enjoyed Moscow’s support to suppress the Syrian opposition since 2011.
The presence of Assad and Zelensky in one hall, with a direct Saudi invitation for both of them, reflects the Kingdom’s tendency towards developing its role in resolving conflicts and changing the course of political events regionally and globally.
Saudi Arabia has recently played a leading diplomatic role in regional politics, restoring relations with Iran, welcoming Syria’s return to the Arab ranks, and mediating in the Sudanese conflict.
Al-Assad’s return to the Arab ranks is part of a broader trend in the Middle East, where countries once disputed are taking steps to mend strained relations due to conflicts and competition for years, in which Riyadh’s role as a mediator has emerged in particular, according to observers.
Prior to that, Riyadh contributed to reaching an agreement between Russia and Ukraine last September, which resulted in an exchange of prisoners, including American, British, Moroccan, Croatian and Swedish nationals.
The Saudi analyst and writer, Suleiman Al-Aqili, says, “The Saudi approach today aims to ease tensions, conclude reconciliations, settle problems, and prepare the climate for the rules of a new Arab order that depends on cooperation, development, construction, investment, mutual trade, and common interests.”
Al-Aqili added, in an interview with Al-Hurra, that “Saudi Arabia was considered an important player with regional and international status, even before the summit was held.”
Al-Aqili asserts that “Saudi Arabia is continuing the process of peace, cooperation and construction in a way that achieves the interests of the peoples of the region.”
Al-Aqili attributes this remarkable change in Saudi policy and its approach to mediation to several things, the most prominent of which is its possession of “a giant national project represented by Vision 2030.”
Al-Aqili says that this project “is in the economic form through which the Kingdom is trying to diversify its sources of income, but it is in fact an economic, political and social project.”
And he continues, “There is a conviction among Saudi Arabia that the success of the project depends on regional stability in the region, whether in the field of security or trade, investment and development cooperation.”
Al-Aqili points out that “Vision 2030 and the existing projects in it are now greatly affecting the priorities of Saudi foreign policy, which has begun to rely on political realism and cooperation with neighbors.”
Last March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced the signing of an agreement sponsored by China, according to which they decided to end a seven-year diplomatic rift between them.
Riyadh also worked to mend relations with the Houthis in Yemen, Turkey and the Syrian regime, whose efforts resulted in Assad’s return to the Arab League after a decade of severing relations with him.
It is noteworthy that the US State Department denounced Syria’s return to the Arab League, stressing that Washington rejects normalization with Assad and that the sanctions will remain in force against his regime.--
Commenting on the confirmation of Assad’s participation in the Arab summit, US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told Al-Hurra on Wednesday: “We do not believe that Syria deserves re-admission to the Arab League at this time. This is a point we have made clear to all our partners.”
Patel added that, despite this, “we share with our Arab partners many goals with regard to Syria, including reaching a solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, expanding humanitarian access to all Syrians in need, and building security and stability to ensure that ISIS does not emerge from New, creating safe conditions for the return of refugees, releasing and revealing the fate of those unjustly detained and missing, limiting Iranian influence, and combating Captagon smuggling from Syria.
Al-Assad’s participation in the Arab summit.. The US State Department clarifies its position on Al-Hurra and defines “ultimate goals”
The US State Department condemned, on Wednesday, Syria’s return to the Arab League, amid news of the participation of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, in the Arab summit to be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday.
However, the Saudi political researcher and media advisor, Mubarak Al Aati, states that “Saudi Arabia wants to bridge Arab-Arab relations, as well as re-strengthen the pillars of the Arab house.”
Al Aati told Al-Hurra that “Saudi Arabia has invested its pressure diplomacy to persuade all Arab countries to attend, regardless of the level of their bilateral relations.”
Riyadh’s mediation efforts have transcended the Middle East. Last year, the government said it brokered a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine that resulted in the release of 10 detainees, including two American veterans and five British citizens.
Last December, the kingdom announced that it had also helped broker the release of basketball star Brittney Grainer from Russian detention in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Al Aati believes that the “positive neutrality” that Saudi Arabia adhered to in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict may enable it to play a role in resolving the conflict.
Al-Ati told Al-Hurra that “the Ukrainian president’s attendance at the summit is a Saudi message indicating that it can contribute to international efforts aimed at resolving the conflict.”
Al Aati adds that “Saudi Arabia enjoys significant political and economic weight regionally and internationally, and that Saudi political opinion has become internationally influential, and it is an indispensable partner in the field of maintaining international peace and security.”
He points out that “the presence of the Ukrainian president at the summit is confirmation that the Arab group rejects the use of force in settling disputes.”
In turn, Al-Aqili says, “Saudi Arabia also invited Russia to send a delegate to the Arab League, but Moscow contented itself with sending a telegram that was distributed at the conference.”
He added, “This indicates that the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, wants to prove to the world that it is an important part of the international system, and that it can contribute to easing tensions and mediating in global conflicts.”
He points out that “the Kingdom aims to help resolve the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, in light of the effects and repercussions of the war reaching the region, whether at the level of food, the energy crisis, or concern about a new international polarization that harms the security and stability of the Middle East region.”