TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisian President Kais Saied met Tuesday with Syria's chief diplomat and said his country wants to boost bilateral cooperation and preserve “historical ties of brotherhood” with Damascus, the official TAP news agency reported.
Diplomatic relations between Syria and Tunisia have been cut since 2012 during the civil war that followed President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on mass protests against his rule. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad's three-day visit to Tunisia is meant to help restore relations, the Tunisian Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Mikdad had a meeting Monday evening with his Tunisian counterpart Nabil Ammar shortly after his arrival.
President Saied stressed Tunisia’s willingness to intensify cooperation in a range of bilateral issues, and on the common cultural bonds, TAP reported.
The bid by the two countries to move toward a new chapter is a glaring example of how things have changed in the region over the past decade: Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements that spread as far as Syria in 2011, and was long among Assad’s strongest critics. But today, Tunisia’s leadership is swinging back toward authoritarianism, and is allying anew with Assad’s Syria.
Earlier this month, the Tunisian president ordered the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, after the Syrian government's decision to reopen its embassy in Tunis and appoint an ambassador.
In February, Saied had announced his decision to raise the level of Tunisian diplomatic representation in Damascus, and said that the crisis facing Assad's government was “an internal matter that concerns only the Syrian people." The move was made at the same time Tunisia was sending urgent humanitarian aid to Syria following the earthquake that killed tens of thousands there and in neighboring Turkey.
Mikdad's visit to Tunisia is the second leg of a trip that began in Algeria, one of the few Arab countries that maintained diplomatic relations during Syria's civil war.
It comes as influential Tunisian Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi was detained after a police search, in a move denounced by his supporters as a stepped-up effort by the president to quash Tunisia’s opposition. Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahdha party, is the most prominent critic of Saied.
Last week, Mikdad also traveled to Saudi Arabia.
Syria was widely shunned by Arab governments over Assad’s 2011 crackdown on protesters, and Syria was ousted from the Arab League.
However, in recent years, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbors have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.