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Syria’s Assad visits United Arab Emirates, first trip to an Arab state since the war began

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses the government committee overseeing measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Damascus
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks in this March 4 from SANA.

March 18, 2022

DUBAI (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday visited the United Arab Emirates in his first visit to an Arab state since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, emphasizing warming ties with a US-allied country that was once supported rebels who were trying to dislodge him.

Assad met the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who “stressed that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security and that the UAE is interested in increasing cooperation with him,” the state-run news agency reported Emirates (WAM).

Assad’s only travels outside of Syria during the war were to Iran and Russia, close allies whose military support helped him turn the tide against opponents backed by governments, including US-allied Gulf countries.

A video posted by WAM showed Assad smiling as he stood next to Sheikh Mohammed in front of the Syrian and Emirati flags, and gesturing and smiling during the talks.

The United States has resisted efforts to normalize relations with Assad or to rehabilitate him pending progress towards a political solution to the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since it evolved from an anti-Assad insurgency.

Washington expressed concern in November when the UAE foreign minister visited Damascus and met Assad.

But Washington has undermined its political capital with both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi by ignoring their concerns about regional rival Iran, ending its support for their war in Yemen and suing terms on US arms sales to the Gulf states.

WAM said the sides emphasized “maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity and withdrawing foreign forces” from the fragmented country, where Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States all have military presences.

They also discussed political and humanitarian support for Syria and its people to find a peaceful solution to all the challenges it is facing, WAM reported.

WAM said Sheikh Mohammed “expressed his wish that this visit will pave the way for goodness, peace and stability in Syria and the wider region.” Assad informed him about the latest developments in Syria, it said.

Assad was seen off by Sheikh Mohammed at the airport.

Assad also met the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Syrian presidency said in a statement.

The meetings were the latest in a series of diplomatic overtures that portend a shift in the Middle East, where several Arab countries are rekindling ties with Assad.

Over the past year there have been increasing signs of rapprochement between Assad and the Arab states, including a phone call with King Abdullah of Jordan, another US ally.

Analysts say political and economic considerations are of great importance for Arab states seeking closer ties with Assad, including how to counter Iranian and Turkish influence.

(Reporting by Moataz Mohamed; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)

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Bobby Allyn

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