The Saudi-Syrian back channel to end the war

Andrew Bowen and J. Matthew McInnis write: In the aftermath of the nuclear agreement struck between Iran and six world powers, a number of the countries with a stake in Syria’s gridlocked civil war have pushed forward initiatives to end the conflict. While the negotiations involving Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States, and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been undertaken in secret for months, Moscow and Tehran’s recent willingness to engage on this issue has made President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus more attentive to the proposals on the table.

Ali Mamlouk, Assad’s national security advisor, made quiet visits at the end of July to both the Saudi city of Jeddah and to Muscat, Oman, according to both Saudi-based sources and sources close to the Assad regime. Mamlouk’s visit represents the first time Saudi Arabia and Oman have invited a senior Syrian official to the Gulf to discuss a political settlement. Following Mamlouk’s visit, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made an official visit in early August to Muscat to meet with the Omani foreign minister where they discussed, according to Syrian state media, “efforts to put an end to the crisis in Syria … which preserves the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity” of the country.

In conversations with those who were engaged in his visits, Mamlouk arrived in Jeddah and Muscat to continue discussing his proposals for ending the civil war. These previously secret discussions have been taking place for at least the past few months. Despite pressure from Moscow, neither Riyadh nor Tehran have fully bought into these proposals at this stage and are presently biding their time in the hopes that events on the ground will allow them to reach a better settlement.[Continue reading…]

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