UAE top diplomat on first Syria visit in over a decade

By: AFP      Published: 10:48 PM, 9 Nov, 2021
uae, diplomat, visit , syria
United Arab Emirates' top diplomat met Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The United Arab Emirates' top diplomat met Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus Tuesday, state media said, in the first such visit by a top UAE official since Syria's war began 10 years ago.

The visit is widely seen as a sign of regional efforts to end Assad's diplomatic isolation as Syria grapples with a spiralling economic crisis caused by years of conflict and compounded by a spate of Western sanctions.

"President Assad received UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed" and an accompanying delegation, the official SANA news agency said.

"During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries and ways to develop cooperation in different sectors that are of common interest," SANA added.

The meeting is the latest sign of warming ties between Syria and the UAE after the oil-rich Gulf state in February 2012 broke ties with Syria. Relations were severed as the repression of nationwide protests demanding regime change was escalating into a devastating war, which has left more than 380,000 people dead.

Syria is backed by the UAE's regional rival Iran but in December 2018 the Gulf state reopened its embassy in Damascus, suggesting an effort to bring the Syrian government back into the Arab fold.

This was followed by the UAE's calling in March for Syria to return to the Arab League -- having been a key backer of its suspension from the pan-Arab body in November 2011. 

Damascus is struggling to secure international aid, namely from oil-rich Arab neighbours that supported the opposition in the early days of the war. 

Last month, the UAE's economy ministry said it agreed with Syria on "future plans to enhance economic cooperation and explore new sectors".

Rare call 

A statement by the ministry said that the UAE is Syria's most prominent global trade partner, with a 14 percent share in Syria's foreign trade.

Also last month, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan -- the de facto ruler of the UAE -- discussed developments in Syria with Assad in a rare phone call.

It was the second call between the two leaders since a first telephone contact in March 2020, during which they discussed the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the war-torn nation. 

The UAE is not the only Arab country moving closer to Assad's government. 

In September, Assad called King Abdullah II of Jordan for the first time since the start of Syria's conflict. The two countries had reopened a major border crossing between them earlier that month.

It is not yet clear if other Arab countries, several of which were accused by Assad of once supporting jihadists and rebels, will follow the UAE.

It is one of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council that took a tough stance on Damascus in 2012 and eventually recognised an opposition umbrella group as the representative of Syria.

Warming up to Assad is seen by some regional powers as a way of luring Syria away from the exclusive regional influence of Iran -- a staunch supporter of Assad's government that has expanded its military footprint in Syria throughout the course of the conflict.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.