February 11, 2019 / 11:15 AM / 6 months ago

No consensus yet for Syria return: Arab League chief

FILE PHOTO: Arab League Headquarters is seen before the 4th EU-League of Arab States Ministerial meeting between Arab and European foreign ministers, to discuss the Syrian and Iraqi crises in Cairo, Egypt December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Arab League said on Monday there was no consensus yet among member states that may allow the reinstatement of Syria’s membership which was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.

U.S.-allied Arab states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad for years but Damascus was able to steadily crush rebel fighters with military backing from Russia and Iran.

In a big diplomatic boost for Assad, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in December, saying it aimed to normalize ties and curb risks of regional interference in “Arab, Syrian affairs” - an apparent reference to non-Arab Iran and Turkey.

But Arab League Secretary General and former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, speaking during a visit to Beirut, said there was no consensus yet on Syria being allowed back into the League.

“I follow this subject very closely and I do not yet observe conclusions that lead to the consensus that we are talking about and that may lead to an (Arab) foreign ministers meeting in which they announce the end of the difference and therefore call for Syria to return to occupy the seat,” he said.

The Arab League is due to hold a summit meeting at the end of March in Tunisia.

Asked about the prospects for Syria’s readmission, Aboul Gheit noted that Arab League foreign ministers were due to hold two meetings before the summit.

“But the matter is not time, the matter is will. The matter is consensus among the states,” he said.

“For Syria to return, there must be consensus.”

Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Ed Osmond

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