Regional Talks on Syria's Fate Kick Off in Jordanian Capital

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- Regional leaders met in Jordan Monday to discuss Syria's return to the Arab fold and a Jordanian proposal to reach a "political solution" to the Syrian conflict.

The talks, attended by the top diplomats of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, kicked off with a meeting between Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, followed by a meeting of all the ministers.

A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman said the meeting came as a follow-up to talks with the Arab Gulf countries, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt that were held in Saudi Arabia last month. The spokesman added that those countries aimed to build on their contacts with the Syrian government and discuss a "Jordanian initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis."

Syria was ostracized by Arab governments over President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on protesters in a 2011 uprising that descended into civil war. However, in recent years, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria's neighbors have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.

The overtures picked up pace after a deadly Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered reestablishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in the conflict.

In recent weeks, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia -- which once backed Syrian rebel groups -- has reversed its stance on the Assad government and is pushing its neighbors to follow suit. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Damascus last month for the first time since the kingdom cut ties with Syria more than a decade ago.

The kingdom, which will host a meeting of the Arab League this month, has been coaxing other member states to restore Syria's membership, although some holdouts remain, chief among them Qatar. The Arab League is a confederation of Arab administrations established to promote cooperation among its members.