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Syria’s Assad visits UAE, first trip to Arab state since war began

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Syria's Assad visits UAE, first trip to Arab state since war began

UAE’s opponent, who backed Assad in Syria war, expresses ‘deep disappointment’ at UAE move

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his first visit to the Arab country since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, underscoring a relationship with U.S. allies Warming relations between the countries once backed rebels seeking to oust him.

Assad met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who “stressed that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security and that the UAE is keen to strengthen,” according to the Emirates State News Agency (WAM) cooperation with it”.

A video released by WAM showed Assad smiling beside Sheikh Mohammed in front of the Syrian and UAE flags and gesturing and smiling during the talks.

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The visit drew strong condemnation from Washington, with the State Department saying it was “deeply disappointed and troubled” by what it said was an apparent attempt to legitimize Assad.

During the war, Assad’s only trips outside Syria were to Iran and Russia, two close allies whose military support helped him turn the tide against adversaries backed by governments, including U.S. allies in the Gulf states.

He also met with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Friday, the Syrian presidency said in a statement.

The trip coincides with the 11th anniversary of the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011 as Washington has been working globally to unite allies and partners against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated that Washington remains opposed to efforts to normalize relations or restore Assad. He said the U.S. would not waive or lift sanctions on Syria unless progress was made towards a political solution to the conflict. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people since the anti-Assad uprising.

“We urge countries considering engagement with the Assad regime to carefully weigh the horrific atrocities the regime has perpetrated against Syrians over the past decade, and the regime’s continued efforts to deny humanitarian aid and security to much of the country,” Pley said. S said in an email.

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

But the Biden administration ignored Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s concerns about regional rival Iran, stopped supporting their war in Yemen and placed conditions on U.S. arms sales to the Gulf states, eroding its ties with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi political capital.read more

WAM said the two sides emphasized “maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity and withdrawing foreign troops from a 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 peacefully resolve all the challenges it faces, WAM reported.

Sheikh Mohammed “expressed his desire that this visit will pave the way for goodwill, peace and stability in Syria and the entire region,” WAM said. It said Assad briefed him on the latest developments in Syria.

Assad was dropped off at the airport by Sheikh Mohammed.

The meetings marked the latest in a series of diplomatic proposals that suggest a shift in the Middle East and several Arab states are restoring ties with Assad.

Signs of Assad’s reconciliation with Arab nations increased last year, including a phone call with King Abdullah of Jordan, another U.S. ally.read more

Analysts said political and economic considerations loomed for Arab countries seeking closer ties with Assad, including how to counter the influence of Iran and Turkey.

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

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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