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Saudi Arabia appoints new ambassador to Syria
By ALBERT AJI
Associated Press
2009-07-06 06:07 PM
A Saudi diplomat said Monday that the kingdom has appointed a new ambassador to Syria, the strongest sign yet of the solidifying reconciliation between the two rival Arab nations.

The United States and its Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, have been working to boost ties with Syria in recent weeks in hopes of pulling it out of the fold of Iran and Islamic militant groups in the region.

Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, a close Saudi ally. Syria was widely blamed for his death, but denies any responsibility.

Saudi subsequently transferred its ambassador from Syria to Qatar in 2008, leaving the post vacant.

An official at the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Syria has approved the appointment of a Saudi ambassador, identifying the diplomat as Abdullah al-Eifan. The diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in Damascus said he would assume the post soon.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the appointment was not yet official, and gave no further details.

Al-Eifan's appointment is a strong indication that a much talked about summit meeting between the Saudi king and the Syrian president would be held in Damascus in the coming days or weeks.

Observers have suggested a summit in Damascus was unlikely before the king appoints his envoy to Syria.

The oil powerhouse sent a senior envoy to Damascus on June 28. Assad and Saudi King Abdullah have met twice in recent months in Riyadh and Kuwait, and there has been persistent media speculation that Abdullah will visit Damascus in July to crown the renewed relationship.

The U.S. has also been mending relations with Syria. Washington has said it will send back its ambassador to Damascus after a four-year break after Hariri's assassination. Assad and Jordan's king have also recently exchanged visits for the first time in several years.

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