Syria’s FM visits Egypt in step toward restoring ties

CAIRO (AP) — Syria’s chief diplomat was in Egypt on Saturday in a step toward normalizing ties between the two countries. It was the first trip to the capital of Cairo for a Syrian foreign minister in over a decade.

Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad met with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry for talks that addressed ties between the two countries along with other regional and international topics, according to Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesperson for the Egyptian foreign ministry.

The two ministers first held a “tête-à-tête” meeting before being joined by their delegations for wider consultations on means to support the “Syrian people to restore its unity and sovereignty over its whole territories,” Abu Zaid said.

Shoukry also reiterated Egypt’s support for U.N.-brokered efforts to achieve a political settlement to Syria’s conflict, the spokesman said.

Mekdad’s visit comes as the two countries inch toward re-establishing ties. It’s been more than a decade since Syria was globally isolated after President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on mass protests against his rule in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The unrest quickly descended into protracted civil war.

For years, many public figures in Egypt have urged the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to restore ties with Assad’s government. They also pushed for Damascus’ return to the Cairo-based Arab League.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League and other pan-Arab organizations. But in recent years several Arab countries have begun restoring ties with Assad’s government after it regained control over most of the country, thanks to military assistance from Iran and Russia.

A devastating earthquake that stuck Turkey and Syria in February has intensified moves to normalize ties with Syria. Several Arab nations dispatched senior officials and sent aid to show solidarity with Syria and Turkey. Assad also was hosted recently in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

El-Sissi spoke with Assad by phone after the earthquake hit and sent Shoukry to Damascus, where he met with Assad. Shoukry was Egypt’s most senior official to visit Syria since 2011.

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