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    Saudi-hosted Summit Limits Assad’s Reentry into Arab Community

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    Arab leaders welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League at a summit in Saudi Arabia. This marks the first time Assad has appeared at the Arab League since Syria was suspended in 2011. The summit was also expected to address conflicts across the Middle East and beyond. Assad called for a “new phase” in regional cooperation, hoping that it would lead to peace, development, and prosperity in the region. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also welcomed Assad’s return, hoping it would lead to stability in Syria.

    The embrace of Assad was a marked departure for Saudi Arabia, which had previously backed the Syrian opposition and accused Assad of operating a “killing machine”. Not every country in the region has been eager to mend ties with Assad, with Qatar saying this month that it would not normalize relations with his government.

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    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also made a surprise appearance at the summit, his first visit to the Middle East since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Zelensky accused some Arab leaders of turning a blind eye to the horrors of Russia’s invasion and urged them to take an honest look at the war. Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as relatively neutral on the war in Ukraine, coordinating closely with Russia on energy policy.

    The summit was seen as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to show its growing diplomatic clout. Saudi Arabia has restored bilateral ties with Syria and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it leads a military coalition against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

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