UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed Meets Assad, Signals Arab States Keen to Engage Syria

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 Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (R) receiving the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in the capital Damascus. — SANA/AFP

The United States criticised the visit, denouncing efforts to rehabilitate a “brutal dictator”.

BEIRUT — The United Arab Emirates foreign minister met Syrian 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 trying to overthrow him.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed is the most senior Emirati dignitary to visit Syria in the decade since the eruption of a civil war in which several Arab states backed insurgents against President Assad.

The United States criticised the visit, denouncing efforts to rehabilitate a “brutal dictator”.

“We are concerned by reports of this meeting and the signal that it sends,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalise or rehabilitate Bashar al Assad, who is a brutal dictator,” Price said, not referring to him as president.

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

The participants discussed exploring “new horizons for this cooperation, especially in vital sectors in order to strengthen investment partnerships in these sectors”, the statement said.

Sheikh Abdullah underlined in his meeting with Assad “UAE’s keenness on the security, stability and unity of Syria,” UAE’s state news agency WAM said.

He also stressed the “UAE’s support for all efforts made to end the Syrian crisis, consolidate stability in the country, and meet the aspirations of the brotherly Syrian people,” WAM reported.

Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the Emirates president, wrote on Twitter that “the UAE continues to build bridges, boost relationships, and connect what was cut off… and will be keen to spare the region further congestion and continuous conflicts”.

A correspondent for Lebanon’s Al Manar TV, which is run by Hezbollah, an Assad ally, said heavy security 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 normalise 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 toward normalising relations since Assad, with Russian and Iranian help, defeated rebels across much of Syria, apart from some northern and eastern areas that remain outside his grasp. — Reuters

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