RIYADH, (Reuters) – Syrian officials invited Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday to an Arab summit in Damascus which the monarch may not attend in person because of divisions over Lebanon’s political crisis, a government source said.
A Saudi diplomatic source said Syrian Foreign Ministry official Bassam al-Sabbagh and Syrian Minister of State for Red Crescent Affairs Bashar al-Sho’ar handed the invitation to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Diplomats and analysts in Saudi Arabia say King Abdullah is unlikely to attend the Arab League’s annual summit in Syria at the end of this month unless political deadlock in Lebanon is resolved.
Saudi Arabia blames Syria for the failure of Damascus-allied Lebanese opposition forces to reach a deal with the government, backed by Western countries and Saudi Arabia, on electing a new Lebanese president.
The election of a new president has been delayed since November because of a dispute over the division of seats in the new cabinet between the government and opposition.
If King Abdullah does not attend the summit, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal could go in his place.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told Al Arabiya television in comments aired on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would attend the summit but it was yet to be decided at which level.
Syrian-Saudi relations deteriorated after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim leader seen as Riyadh’s point man in Lebanon.
U.S.-allied Arab countries fear the growing influence of non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran, a backer of Lebanese opposition group Hezbollah, and regard Lebanon as a key battleground in holding back the Islamic Republic.