‘First Emirati official to visit Syria since 2011’: UAE foreign minister meets Assad in Damascus

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Bashar al-Assad has met the United Arab Emirates’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus, the Syrian presidency said.

Bin Zayed is the first Emirati official to visit Damascus since the 2011 uprising that escalated into a brutal, multifaceted war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes, and destroyed Syria’s infrastructure, Al Jazeera reported.

Previously, the UAE was one of several regional powers that backed opposition fighters in Syria’s war. With the Syrian government recapturing much of the country, Arab countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, have made overtures towards al-Assad’s government.

The two discussed “exploring new horizons” to bolster bilateral ties and commercial partnerships at Tuesday’s meeting, according to a Syrian presidency statement. Bin Zayed headed a senior delegation of Emirati officials, it added.

“Sheikh Abdullah stressed the UAE’s support for efforts for stability in Syria … expressing his confidence that Syria, under the leadership of President Al-Assad, and the efforts of its people are able to overcome the challenges caused by the war,” the statement read. Al-Assad praised the UAE for its “correct and objective positions” towards Syria.

Last month, the Emirati economy ministry said it had agreed with its Syrian counterpart to enhance trade and economic cooperation after the economy ministers of both countries met on the sidelines at Dubai Expo 2020.

Ties between the two countries have slowly rekindled since the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in late 2018. In March 2019, bin Zayed said the UAE intended “to ensure that Syria returns to the Arab region”. Abu Dhabi has also called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League.

Last month, al-Assad held a phone call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II – a key US ally. The conversation was preceded by the full reopening of a main border crossing between the two countries in September.

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