Syrian foreign minister to visit Saudi after spat



In unusually scathing comments last month, Saudi Arabia, which has been trying to bolster its role as a regional power broker, rejected as ‘lies and fallacies’ high-level Syrian accusations that its role in the Middle East was waning.




It was responding to criticism from Syrian Vice President Farouq Al Shara who pointed to the failure of a Palestinian unity deal forged in the Saudi holy city of Mecca in February.



Moualem was expected to meet Saudi King Abdullah on Tuesday, Saudi sources said. A Lebanese political source close to Damascus said the visit was part of efforts to ease tensions.



One Gulf analyst said the two Arab countries were trying to patch up ties ahead of a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference that is expected to take place in November.



‘For Saudi to accept a visit after the recent diplomatic spat is a good sign in itself but it also indicates that Syria has come to the conclusion that it cannot aspire to play an important role in the Middle East peace conference without Saudi support,’ said the analyst, who declined to be named.



Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet Saudi officials on Tuesday and UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is visiting the kingdom this week, the Saudi sources said.



Washington, the kingdom’s top Western ally, has accused Syria of not doing enough to stop Islamist militants from crossing into Iraq to fight U.S.-led troops and of meddling in Lebanon to undermine its U.S.- and Saudi-backed government.



Ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia have been strained since the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former prime minister Rafik Al Hariri, a Saudi ally.



King Abdullah, once close to Syria’s Baathist leaders, was outraged by the murder in Lebanon, which was then dominated by Syrian military and intelligence.



A UN investigation has implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the killing, a charge Damascus denies.



A political standoff between Lebanon’s pro-Syrian Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, which is backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, has further soured relations since last year’s war between Israel and the Shia Muslim guerrilla group.



Riyadh is also concerned about the growing influence of Syria’s Shia Muslim ally, Iran, particularly in Iraq and Lebanon, where Shia groups are strong.



Tensions appeared to ease with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s attendance at the last Arab summit held in Riyadh in March, but the recent exchange marked a downturn in relations.



The next Arab summit is due to take place in Syria.


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