The Emirates’ diplomatic chief is visiting Damascus for the first time since 2011

The UAE chief of diplomacy on Tuesday met Bashar al-Assad in the first visit by a senior official from that country to Damascus since the war began in 2011. A trip that has drawn heavy criticism from the United States is part of a recent regional effort to end the isolation of the Syrian President on the regional stage.

The UAE’s head of diplomacy met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, November 9, during the first visit to Damascus by a senior official of that country since the war began in 2011, a trip organized by the United Arab Emirates Arab Emirates has been criticized states.

As an ally of the Emirates, the United States expressed its “concern” and deplored any efforts aimed at “rehabilitating” Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of being “a brutal dictator”, “atrocities” and “am to deny most access to humanitarian aid”. of the country”.

The Emirati minister’s visit is a sign of warming relations between the Syrian government and the Arab Gulf countries and signals regional efforts to bring Syria out of its isolation after 11 years of war that have devastated its economy.

The Emirates, like the other five Arab Gulf monarchies, severed diplomatic ties with Syria in February 2012 as the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests turned into a complex and devastating war.

In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad and Emirati Minister Abdallah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan discussed “the relations between the two brotherly countries and ways to develop them,” according to the Syrian agency Sana. The Syrian President welcomed “the objective positions of the Emirates, which have always stood by the side of the Syrian people.”

The Emirati minister underscored his country’s willingness to “strengthen Syria’s security, stability and unity,” according to the official Emirati agency WAM.

Abu Dhabi reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018, but relations had remained cold.

Washington ‘worried’

The United States on Tuesday expressed “concern” about the visit and deplored any efforts to “rehabilitate” the Syrian president, whom Washington considers “a brutal dictator.”

“We call on all states in the region to stop the atrocities committed by this regime and Bashar al-Assad himself against the Syrian people over the past decade, as well as the regime’s persistent efforts to deny access to most of the country, carefully considering humanitarian assistance and security,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“We are concerned about the information about this meeting and the message it sends,” said Ned Price. “This is an issue we often raise with our close partners in the region, including our Emirati partners, and we have made our position clear,” he added.

Syria was banned from the Arab world after the start of the war and many Arab countries, including Gulf monarchies, had supported the opposition and the Syrian rebels against the lord of Damascus.

Backed militarily by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad’s troops conquered a large part of Syrian territory after numerous setbacks starting in 2015.

Across the diplomatic front, the Syrian government is trying to revive economic ties with the Arab states as the country is plunged into a severe economic crisis combined with Western sanctions. Not to mention the colossal destruction and devastated infrastructure of the country from the conflict, which has left around half a million dead and displaced half the population.

A report by the NGO World Vision released earlier this year estimated the economic cost of the conflict at more than $1,200 billion.

The Emirates, an oil-rich country, is Syria’s main trading partner, accounting for 14% of its international trade. Analyst Nicholas Heras believes that the “emirates are Syria’s lifeline” and that sanctions are making reconstruction more difficult. “Damascus needs the Emirates (…) to access important funds.”

The Emirates aren’t the only ones reaching Damascus. In September, King Abdullah II of Jordan called Bashar al-Assad for the first time since 2011. The two neighboring countries have now reopened an important border crossing.

After Damascus, the Emirati minister has to go to Jordan, according to the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.

Iranian influence

Egypt, seat of the Arab League from which Syria was expelled in 2011, has found it necessary to restore ties with Damascus at some point. “The day will come when Syria will return to Arab rule. But that will depend on the policies of the Syrian government,” said chief of diplomacy Sameh Choukri.

This warming of ties is also seen as an attempt to distance Assad’s power from an exclusive influence of Iran, as the latter country has increased its military presence in Syria in favor of the war.

While the regime controls most of the country, Syria remains fragmented. The Kurds control the northeast, and other areas in the north are under the control of jihadists and rebels, or even Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries.

And the jihadist group Islamic State continues to carry out deadly attacks despite its territorial defeat in 2019.

With AFP

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