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Saudi Arabia aims to reduce tensions with Iran, moves to normalize relationship with Syria

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In the post-Trump world, countries are realigning fast, leaving America behind. The alliances being formed for expedience and mutual convenience are not in American interests, or for that matter, in the interests of the West (or Israel). Speculation has vanished about any possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel. Not that it was a practical idea to begin with, given that Saudi Arabia is still dominated by Wahhabism. But a limited relationship would have sufficed, based on facing the common enemy of Iran. But now comes the news that Saudi Arabia is seeking to defuse tensions with Iran, and is on the brink of normalizing relations with Syria as a step toward that goal.

Who would have thought that Saudi Arabia would be pursuing Iran? Meanwhile, Biden continues to be the global pushover. Iran is rapidly growing in strength, between a disastrous nuke deal that Biden’s administration continues to pursue, and now with a possible rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Talks were held between Iran and Saudi Arabia in May in efforts to reduce tensions.

“‘Times have changed’: Saudi Arabia-Syria in rapprochement talks,” by Matthew Ayton, Al Jazeera, June 8, 2021:

Saudi Arabia is close to reaching an agreement on diplomatic normalisation with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, as Riyadh jockeys to play a lead role in removing the Iranian presence from Syria, Al Jazeera has been told by those with close knowledge of the discussions.

According to a senior official from the Syrian opposition Free Officer’s Movement, who maintains close contacts within the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and General Intelligence Directorate (GID), “the political mood within the House of Saud has changed, many senior royals, particularly Mohammad bin Salman [MBS] himself, are keen to reengage with Assad”.

“The prevailing attitude can be defined as, ‘times have changed, the Arab Spring is history and the region is transitioning towards a new future, with new geopolitical characteristics,’” the official, who himself recently reconciled with Damascus after defecting to the Syrian opposition in the summer of 2011, added.

The discussion with Al Jazeera came on the heels of a report in early May, which claimed Riyadh had dispatched an intelligence delegation led by GID Director General Khalid Humaidan to Damascus to engage in discussions on the possibility of detente between the two erstwhile foes. Also in May, Syria dispatched its first ministerial delegation in 10 years to Riyadh, led by the Minister of Tourism Rami Martini.

From the Syrian conflict’s earliest days, Saudi Arabia had been a key player in supporting the proxy war aimed at toppling al-Assad. Riyadh supplied an array of local rebel groups with finances and weaponry, including US-made anti-tank missiles, as part of the effort. The campaign faltered following larger counter-interventions by al-Assad’s chief foreign patrons, Russia and Iran.

However, Saudi Arabia now appears to view the corridors of power in Damascus as an expedient avenue for shoring up its broader regional interests.

‘Defuse Iran tensions’
According to a Damascus-based official from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was privy to the recent talks with Riyadh, “MBS is engaged in efforts to defuse tensions with The Islamic Republic of Iran by engaging with Syria.”

According to the official, “MBS instructed his team to reassure Syria that he does not want regime change against Bashar, and that Syria, as a brotherly Arab nation, should naturally be close to Saudi Arabia”.

The official claimed this was “clearly also intended as a signal” to the Iranian leadership that Riyadh “recognises that the side of the war in which … [Iran] most heavily invested won, and that it will not try to challenge that reality”.

The official, while refusing to confirm, also alluded to the possibility of an Iranian presence at the Damascus meeting, saying, “let’s just say the Iranians were immediately very welcoming to what they heard”.

Both sources spoke with Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity over the issue.

In May, Iraqi President Barham Salih confirmed reports from April that said Saudi Arabia and Iran held bilateral talks in Baghdad in a bid to soothe simmering tensions. Allegedly, those discussions focused largely, although not exclusively, on resolving the war in Yemen, where the Royal Saudi Air Force has been engaged in an air campaign since mid-2015 against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels….

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