U.S. Concerned About UAE Efforts to Normalize With Syria
(Bloomberg) -- The United States said it was concerned about efforts to normalize relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister visited Damascus Tuesday, the highest-level official to make the trip in a decade.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed with Assad ways to boost joint investments in key sectors, the state-run Syrian news agency reported without giving details.
Syria has been a pariah in the Arab world since the outbreak of its civil war following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, when Gulf states aided rebels fighting to oust Assad. With Russian and Iranian help, Assad managed to cling onto power and the UAE is among a number of nations now pushing to bring Syria back into the Arab fold, lobbying for its re-admission into the Arab League.
The UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018. Last month, economy ministers from the two countries met on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020 trade fair.
Moves to rehabilitate Assad have met with disapproval, however, from the U.S. and European nations which continue to impose tight sanctions on the Syrian regime, hindering foreign investment in rebuilding the country as the war winds down.
“We will not normalize or upgrade our diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, nor do we support other countries normalizing or upgrading their relations, given the atrocities that this regime has inflicted on its own people,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We share with many of our partners – that stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved through a political process that represents the will of all Syrians.”
The U.S. is still assessing the best way to advance the prospects for a political settlement in Syria as outlined by the UN Security Council resolution 2254, Price said. The U.S. wasn’t taken by surprise by the visit, he added.
At the meeting in Damascus, Assad and Sheikh Abdullah agreed to continue their dialog on the various challenges facing the region, SANA reported. The Emirati official said his country supported efforts to stabilize Syria and was ready to help its people.
The UAE Foreign Ministry declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg on Tuesday.
“Assad has won and he’s here to stay. Nobody is going to dislodge him now, so you might as well square with the facts on the ground and mend fences with him,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political science professor with knowledge of official thinking.
“A complete and total rupture of Syria’s relations with Iran isn’t what the UAE is hoping for but having less of Iran in Syria, and more of an Arab presence in Damascus, can be done.”
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