UAE Foreign Minister meets with Assad

The UAE Foreign Minister met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, a sign of improving ties between Assad and a US-allied Arab state that once supported rebels who They were trying to overthrow him.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed is the highest ranking Emirati dignitary to visit Syria in the decade since the outbreak of a civil war in which several Arab states mainly backed Sunni Muslim insurgents against Assad.

The foreign minister led a delegation of senior Emirati officials who discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in a meeting with their Syrian counterparts, a statement from the Syrian presidency said.

Participants discussed exploring “new horizons for this cooperation, especially in sectors vital to strengthening investment alliances in these sectors,” the statement said.

Sheikh Abdullah stressed in his meeting with Assad “the UAE’s enthusiasm for Syria’s security, stability and unity,” the UAE’s state news agency WAM said.

People participate in a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and in the presidential elections, in the opposition-controlled Idlib, Syria on May 26, 2021 (credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS).

He also highlighted the “support of the United Arab Emirates for all efforts made to end the Syrian crisis, consolidate stability in the country and meet the aspirations of the brother Syrian people,” WAM reported.

Senior UAE official Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the President of the Emirates, wrote on Twitter that “the UAE continues to build bridges, boost relations and connect what was cut … and they will be willing to avoid for the region to continue congestion and ongoing conflict. “

A correspondent for Lebanese television al-Manar, which is run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an ally of Assad, said heavy security measures had been observed on the road from Damascus airport to the city.

The UAE has been at the forefront of efforts by some Arab states to normalize ties with Damascus and earlier this year called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League. It reopened its embassy in Damascus three years ago.

Jordan and Egypt, both US allies, have also taken steps to normalize relations since Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, defeated rebels in much of Syria, aside from some areas in the north and east that they remain out of reach.

The United States has said it does not support efforts to normalize ties with Assad or rehabilitate him until progress is made towards a political solution to the conflict.

Washington has also said it will not lift sanctions, including measures that can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality.

The UAE may have asked Damascus not to announce the visit due to sensitivity in its ties with the United States, said Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma. “Nobody wants to stick their head too high above the parapet,” he said.

Last month, King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to Assad for the first time in a decade and the border between the countries was reopened for trade. The Egyptian foreign minister also met with his Syrian counterpart in September, the highest-level contact between the countries since the civil war began.

“Both the UAE and Egypt have long believed that the Damascus government serves as a brake on the expansion of Islamist groups in the region,” Landis said. Investments are expected once Syria is readmitted to the Arab League, he added, although private companies would wait to see how the United States would respond first.

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