Assad visits UAE in latest sign of re-engagement

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his office said, his first visit to an Ara...


DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his office said, his first visit to an Arab country since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011.

In a statement posted on its social media pages, Mr Assad’s office said he had met Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the Emirates, who is also the ruler of Dubai. The two discussed expanding bilateral relations between Syria and the Emirates, he added.

The visit sends the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is ready to re-engage with the largely shunned Syrian president. It happens against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, where Mr. Assad’s main ally, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, is pursuing a military offensive, now in its fourth week. Syria supported the Russian invasion, blaming the West for causing it.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after its civil war broke out 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war, which has displaced half of Syria’s population. Large parts of the country have been destroyed and reconstruction would cost tens of billions of dollars.

Arab and Western countries have generally blamed Mr. Assad’s deadly crackdown on the 2011 protests for sparking the war, and they backed the opposition in the early days of the conflict.

Asked about Mr Assad’s visit to the Emirates, a State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said Washington was “deeply disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad, who remains responsible for the death and suffering of countless Syrians”. , the displacement of over half of Syria’s pre-war population and the arbitrary detention and disappearance of over 150,000 Syrian men, women and children.

Mr. Assad very rarely traveled outside of Syria during the war, visiting only Russia and Iran. Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid and sent Iranian-backed fighters to fight alongside its forces – aid that, along with Russian air power, has helped turn the tide in favor of M Assad.

With the war deadlocked and Mr. Assad regaining control of most of the country, Arab countries have moved closer to restoring ties with the Syrian leader in recent years.

The Emirates reopened its embassy in Syria at the end of 2018 in the most significant Arab overture to the Assad government, although relations have remained cold. Last fall, the Emirati foreign minister flew to Damascus for a meeting with Mr. Assad, the first visit by the country’s top diplomat since 2011. The United States, a close partner of the Emirates, had then criticized the visit, saying she would not support any normalization of relations with Mr. Assad’s government.

One of the main motives for Sunni Muslim countries’ overtures to the Persian Gulf is to blunt the involvement of their Shia-led enemy Iran, whose influence has rapidly expanded in the chaos of war. in Syria.

The rapprochement could, however, serve both camps.

Syria badly needs to improve its relations with oil-rich countries as its economy is strangled by crippling Western sanctions and faces the task of post-war reconstruction. The Emirates are also home to thousands of Syrians who work there and send money to relatives back home.

The Emirates’ official WAM news agency said the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, welcomed Mr Assad to his palace in Abu Dhabi.

During the meeting, the crown prince expressed his hope that “this visit would be the beginning of peace and stability for Syria and the whole region”, according to the report. Mr Assad is said to have left the Emirates of Abu Dhabi later on Friday.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Assad visits UAE in latest sign of re-engagement
Assad visits UAE in latest sign of re-engagement
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