Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad with UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed al Nahyan, March 18, 2022
Bashar al-Assad visited the UAE on Friday, his first trip to an Arab state since Syria’s uprising began in March 2011.
Assad met Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, discussing “fraternal relations”.
The UAE’s State news agency WAM also said — with no sense of irony — that the two men spoke about “peace” in the Middle East.
Assad also sat down with the UAE Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Syria was expelled from the Arab League soon after the uprising began, and most states have kept their distance from the Assad regime.
However, the UAE — which had backed anti-Assad groups during the uprising — has led a group of states, including Egypt and Bahrain, re-establishing embassies in Damascus and opening talks on political and economic matters. Syria’s neighbor Jordan has also pursued the renewal of trade, including the reopening of the main border crossing.
The path for Friday’s encounter was laid in November, when the UAE’s Foreign Minister visited Damascus.
Syrian State news agency SANA offered little beyond platitudes about the visit. It proclaimed that Mohammad bin Zayed declared that “Syria is considered as a basic pillar of the Arab security”.
The Emirati agency WAM also printed the Crown Prince’s support of a key Assad regime talking point: “the need for the withdrawal of all foreign forces which exist illegitimately on the Syrian lands”.
The news agency briefly summarized Assad’s comments as “We must continue with adherence to our principles, the sovereignty of our countries, and the interests of our peoples.”
Since 2011, Assad’s only trips outside Syria have been to Iran and Russia, whose military interventions prevented his fall from power.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price reiterated Washington’s opposition to any efforts to normalize ties with the Assad.
We urge states considering engagement with the Assad regime to weigh carefully the horrific atrocities visited by the regime on the Syrians over the last decade, as well as the regime’s continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security.
Price said the United States will not waive or lift sanctions on the Assad regime unless there is progress towards a political solution of Syria’s conflict.
As Assad was welcomed in the UAE, the State Department announced the cancellation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia later this month.