Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Oman on Monday, his first official trip to the Gulf country in more than a decade of civil war at home, the Omani foreign ministry said.
The one-day trip to meet with Sultan Haitham bin Tareq came two weeks after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 44,000 people across both countries.
The February 6 quake sparked Arab outreach to the internationally-isolated Assad government, which was expelled from the Arab League after war broke out in 2011.
Sultan Haitham and Assad “held official talks” at the royal palace in Muscat, Oman’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Omani ruler “extended anew his condolences and sincere sympathy to…. the president and to the brotherly Syrian people for the victims of the devastating earthquake”, it added.
The two leaders discussed regional issues and bilateral ties before holding a “private meeting”, the statement said without elaborating.
Unlike other Arab Gulf states, Oman never severed diplomatic ties with Damascus.
In Muscat, Assad praised Oman’s “balanced policies” over the years, the Syrian presidency said in a statement.
“The region is now more in need of Oman’s role… to strengthen ties between Arab states on the basis on mutual respect,” the statement quoted Assad as saying.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain both restored relations with Assad’s government in 2018.
Assad visited the UAE last year in his first trip to an Arab state since the war began, followed only by Monday’s Oman visit.
Analysts say a diplomatic momentum generated by aid efforts in the quake’s aftermath could bolster Assad’s relations with other countries in the Middle East that have so far resisted normalisation.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Saturday a consensus was building in the Arab world that a new approach to Syria would be needed to address humanitarian crises including the quake.
“The status quo is not working and… we need to find some other approach,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told the Munich Security Conference.
“What that approach is, is still being formulated,” he said.