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Saudi Arabia Says It Is Too Early To Restore Ties With Syria

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
RIYADH, March 4 (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it was too early to restore diplomatic ties with Syria or reinstate Damascus to the Arab League without progress on a political process to end the eight-year-old war.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir also said Riyadh, which backed rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, would not take part in any reconstruction efforts before stability is restored in Syria.

"This (reopening the embassy) is related to progress on the political process, so it is still early," Jubeir told a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He said it was also "too early" for Syria to be reinstated to the Arab League, where its membership was suspended seven years ago. The Arab League has said such a move would require consensus among member states.

The United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, reopened its embassy in Damascus in December in a diplomatic boost for Assad, in a bid to re-engage and rebuild Arab influence in Syria.

Assad has recovered control of most of Syria with support from Russia, Iran and Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE have backed armed groups opposed to Assad during the war.

Asked whether Riyadh would assist in reconstruction of Syria, Jubeir said: "Reconstruction cannot happen until the war is over and there is stability and security in Syria."

The United States, backed by Saudi Arabia, is lobbying other Gulf states to hold off on rehabilitating Syria, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad Editing by Peter Graff)