CAIRO — The Arab League readmitted Syria after more than a decade of suspension on Sunday, consolidating a regional push to normalize ties with President Bashar al-Assad.
The decision said Syria could resume its participation in Arab League meetings immediately, while calling for a resolution of the crisis resulting from Syria's civil war, including the flight of refugees to neighboring countries and drug smuggling across the region.
While Arab states including the United Arab Emirates have pushed for Syria and Assad's rehabilitation, others, including Qatar, have remained opposed to full normalization without a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Some have been keen to set conditions for Syria's return, with Jordan's foreign minister saying last week that the Arab League's reacceptance of Syria, which remains under Western sanctions, would only be the start of "a very long and difficult and challenging process."
"The reinstatement of Syria does not mean normalization of relations between Arab countries and Syria," Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told a press conference in Cairo on Sunday. "This is a sovereign decision for each country to make."
A Jordanian official said Syria would need to show it was serious about reaching a political solution, since this would be a precondition to lobbying for any lifting of Western sanctions, a crucial step for funding reconstruction.
Sunday's decision said Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and the Arab League's Secretary General would form a ministerial group to liaise with the Syrian government and seek solutions to the crisis through reciprocal steps.
Practical measures included continuing efforts to facilitate the delivery of aid in Syria, according to a copy of the decision seen by Reuters.
Syria's readmission follows a Jordanian initiative laying out a roadmap for ending Syria's conflict that includes addressing the issues of refugees, missing detainees, drug smuggling and Iranian militias in Syria.
Jordan is both a destination and a main transit route to the oil-rich Gulf countries for captagon, a highly-addictive amphetamine produced in Syria.
Syria's membership of the Arab League was suspended in 2011 after the crackdown on street protests against Assad that led to the civil war. Several Gulf states including Saudi Arabia began backing rebel groups fighting to oust Assad from power.
Assad later regained control over much of Syria with the help of his main allies Iran and Russia, but the war cost hundreds of thousands of lives and led millions to flee the country. Syria remains splintered with its economy in ruins.
Recently, Arab states have been trying to reach consensus on whether to invite Assad to an Arab League summit on May 19 in Riyadh to discuss the pace and conditions for normalizing ties.
Responding to a question over whether Assad could participate, Aboul Gheit told reporters: "If he wishes, because Syria, starting from this evening, is a full member of the Arab League."
"When the invitation is sent by the host country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and if he wishes to participate, he will participate," he added.
Saudi Arabia long resisted restoring relations with Assad but said after its recent rapprochement with Iran—Syria's key regional ally—that a new approach was needed with Damascus.
Washington, which terms Assad's Syria a "rogue" state, has urged Arab states to get something in return for engaging with Assad. — Reuters