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US says ‘troubled’ by Assad’s visit to UAE

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates has been strongly criticized by Washington – Copyright ${image.metadata.node.credit} ${image.metadata.node.creator}

Aziz El Massassi

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates has left the United States “deeply disappointed”, he said on Saturday, urging allies to avoid normalizing ties with a regime accused of “horrible atrocities “.

Assad’s surprise trip on Friday was his first official visit to an Arab country since civil war broke out in his country in 2011, killing nearly half a million people.

It was the latest sign of warming relations between Syria and the energy-rich United Arab Emirates – a key US ally that also normalized relations with Israel in 2020.

“We are deeply disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement sent to AFP on Saturday.

Assad, he said, “remains responsible for the death and suffering of countless Syrians, the displacement of more than half of Syria’s pre-war population, and the arbitrary detention and disappearance of more than 150,000 Syrian men, women and children.

As US Secretary of State Antony reiterated, “Blinken, we don’t support efforts to rehabilitate Assad, and we don’t support others who normalize relations,” Price said.

“We have been clear about this with our partners… (and) we urge states considering engagement with the Assad regime to carefully weigh the horrific atrocities committed by the regime.

Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on Friday came as Russia – a key backer of Damascus that also has strong ties to the Emirates – continued its war against Ukraine.

– “Brotherly” links –

The war in Syria erupted in March 2011 after the brutal repression of anti-government protests, and a year later the United Arab Emirates, like most Arab countries, severed ties with Damascus.

But the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018, suggesting an effort to bring the Assad regime back into Arab rule.

On Friday, Assad and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, discussed “brotherly relations” between the two countries, the state news agency reported. WAM.

The talks also focused on efforts to “contribute to the consolidation of security, stability and peace in the Arab region and the Middle East”, WAM said.

Sheikh Mohammed said he hoped the visit would “pave the way for goodness, peace and stability in Syria and the whole region”, he added.

The two also discussed ways to “preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country”, he said, as well as ways to provide “political and humanitarian support to Syria “.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the meeting helped to “strengthen cooperation” between the two sides.

Photographs released by the Syrian presidency show Assad also met with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum during the one-day visit.

– Russia, Syria and the Gulf –

Syria’s complex war has drawn in many players, including jihadists and foreign actors such as Iran and Russia, and hurt its economy.

In September 2015, Russia began launching airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime, a turning point in the conflict that ultimately helped Assad regain control of most of the country.

Assad hailed Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine as a “correction of history.”

The United Arab Emirates hosts American troops and has been a strategic partner of the United States for decades, but its economic and political ties with Russia are growing.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest oil exporters, have so far avoided taking a stand against Russia.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has impacted Gulf-US relations, experts say, as oil giants like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia resist calls from Washington and other Western capitals to increase oil production in an effort to control prices.

Last year, the United Arab Emirates called for the return of Syria to the Arab League, which had suspended its membership after the start of the war.

And in November, the UAE’s foreign minister met Assad in Damascus for the first time since the conflict began, a move criticized by the United States.

The war in Syria has killed around half a million people, displaced millions and devastated its infrastructure.

A UN commission of inquiry this month called for “a review of the implementation and impacts of the sanctions currently imposed on Syria” in light of deteriorating living conditions.

But State Department spokesman Price said on Saturday the United States would maintain sanctions on Syria “until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution.”

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