Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Damascus on Tuesday, state media reported, ending a decade-long diplomatic freeze between the two countries.
This was the first visit by a Saudi official to the Syrian capital since the country's civil war began in 2011.
"Healthy relations between Syria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should be the norm," state news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying during the meeting.
"Such ties do not benefit not only the two countries, but also the Arab world and the region,” he said, according to the publication, praising an “outgoing and realistic” Saudi approach.
Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the conflict began, but a flurry of diplomatic activity has been underway in recent weeks as the decision by Saudi Arabia and Iran, a close ally of Damascus, to restore ties has changed regional relations.
Assad and Prince Faisal discussed measures to "achieve a comprehensive political settlement that… contributes to the return of Syria to the Arab scheme", the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.< /p>
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat told Assad it was important to "create the right conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons." and aid to reach all areas of Syria, according to the statement.
The meeting comes less than a week after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, also in the first such visit. since the beginning of the conflict.
Last week, diplomats from nine Arab countries met in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss ending Syria's long diplomatic isolation and its possible return to the 22-member Arab League after Damascus suspended it in 2011.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Assad's government in 2012, and Riyadh has long openly supported Assad's overthrow, backing Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war.
The United Arab Emirates, which restored ties in late 2018, is leading the charge to reintegrate Damascus into the Arab fold.
A Feb. 6 earthquake that wreaked havoc in Turkey and Syria sparked an Arab rapprochement in the Assad government and the surprise rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran was announced the following month.
Assad himself has visited both Oman and the United Arab Emirates since the deadly earthquake.
This month, Syria's foreign minister visited Algeria and Tunisia after trips to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister had said in February that consensus was building in the Arab world to a new approach was needed in Syria that requires negotiations with Damascus to address humanitarian crises.
During a trip to Moscow last month, Assad told the Russia Today television network that "Syria is not it is now the scene of a Saudi-Iranian conflict.
Syria's war has killed more than half a million people, while roughly half of the country's pre-war population has been forced to flee their homes.
< p> Assad hopes that a rapprochement with wealthy Gulf states could bring economic relief and money for reconstruction, as wider international funding remains elusive without a United Nations-backed political settlement to the conflict.