UAE foreign minister meets Assad


The United Arab Emirates foreign minister met 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 mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents against Assad.

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The 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.

The UAE is leading an effort by some Arab states to normalize relations with the Syrian regime.

Earlier this year, the Gulf country called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League, which could happen as soon as March of next year when Algeria hosts the next Arab League summit.

Syria was originally suspended from participation in the Arab League in 2011 at the start of the civil war that according to the United Nations has resulted in the deaths of at least 350,000 Syrian civilians and combatants over the past decade.

The UAE also reopened its embassy in Damascus three years ago.

Last month, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan spoke with Assad via phone.

The United States, however, expressed concern about the Assad meeting. 

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

“This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator,” Price said.