DAMASCUS (Reuters)—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Damascus on Tuesday, Syrian state media reported, in the most significant step yet towards ending Syria's decade-long regional isolation.
Bin Farhan landed earlier on Tuesday for the first visit of a top Saudi diplomat to Damascus since ties were ruptured following Assad's deadly crackdown on protesters in 2011 - violence that escalated into a decade-long civil war.
Syria's state news agency said bin Farhan met with Assad but did not immediately provide further details.
The Saudi foreign ministry said in an online statement that the visit showed the kingdom's desire to find a political solution to Syria's conflict that would preserve the country's "Arab identity, and return it to its Arab surroundings".
Following the security forces' crackdown on demonstrators in 2011, Syria's membership in the Arab League was suspended and several Gulf Arab states - including Saudi Arabia - began backing rebel groups fighting to oust Assad from power.
Assad, with the help of his main allies Iran and Russia, later regained control over much of Syria, and Saudi Arabia has said in recent months that isolating him was not working.
The two sides agreed to resume diplomatic ties, and Reuters reported this month that bin Farhan would travel to Damascus to invite Assad to the Arab League's next summit in Riyadh on May 19, two sources familiar with the plans said.
Saudi Arabia hosted Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad last week and then held a meeting in Jeddah of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq to discuss Syria's possible return to the Arab fold.
(Reporting by Firas Makdesi; writing by Maya Gebeily; editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)