The Arab Economic Summit held in Kuwait presented an opportunity for reconciliation between the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad after a long period of contention between them. The reconciliation came after the Saudi monarch called for an end to differences between Arab countries at the opening session of the summit on Jan. 19.
He added, "Let me say on behalf of us all that we have gone beyond the stage of disputes, and open the door of Arab brotherhood and unity of all Arabs without exception or reservation. We will move forward by putting all our differences aside.”
Saudi Arabia and Egypt had earlier strongly opposed a summit convened last week by Qatar with the support of Syria and Iran to discuss events in Gaza, making the reconciliation in Kuwait only days later an unexpected surprise.
According to Saudi Shura Council member Mohammad Abdullah Al Zalfa Saudi relations with Syria declined beginning in February 2005 with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and continued through last March when Saudi Arabia boycotted the Arab summit hosted by Damascus because of the crisis in Lebanon. Syria did not respond to efforts to elect Army Commander General Michel Suleiman, who was agreed upon to be the President of the Republic of Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia was of the view that the Syrian government had worked to disrupt efforts to solve the Lebanese crisis, especially the Arab initiative, which had been adopted at the last Cairo meeting with the consent of Syria.
Pointing out another important factor in the crisis, Al Zalfa emphasised the Syrian role in the promotion of Iran’s regional influence. According to him, Saudi Arabia opposed the growth of Iranian influence in Lebanon and the region at the expense of Arab interests, and considered Syrian support for Iran increasing its influence as a disruption of the unity of the Arab position.
Cairo attempted to mediate the public crisis between Riyadh and Damascus but suspended its efforts. According to Lebanese news reports, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a message to the Syrian president encouraging him to preserve the political legacy of his late father, Hafez al-Assad.
Saudi Arabia also was recently the target of a campaign by media close to Damascus and organisations in Lebanon supposedly affiliated with the Syrian regime led by Hezbollah, ministers and former MPs. In response, the Saudi ambassador in Lebanon left his embassy in Beirut in protest. It is against this background that Saudi reconciliation with Syria was described in Damascus as "a pleasant surprise."
[Al-Arabiya Satellite Channel, News newspaper (Lebanon)]