UAE top diplomat back in Syria as relations continue to thaw

BEIRUT (AP) — The United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, his second visit to Damascus as relations continue to thaw between the two countries.

According to a statement from Assad’s office, he and UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed boosting economic ties between their nations. It quoted Assad as saying that the restoration of ties between the two countries is in the interest of regional stability.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said they also discussed developments in Syria and the region, with Sheikh Abdullah expressing support for a political solution to end the conflict. The UAE foreign minister was joined by a delegation of economic and security officials.

Sheikh Abdullah’s visit is the second to Syria since his first trip to the war-torn country in November 2021. It also comes 10 months after Assad paid a rare visit to the UAE — his first in several years to a foreign country other than his allies Russia and Iran. The UAE reopened its embassy in Syria in 2018.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after its uprising turned conflict broke out in 2011. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war, which displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million. Large parts of Syria have been destroyed, and reconstruction will cost tens of billions of dollars.

With the war mostly stalemated in recent years and after Assad regained control over much of Syria’s territory thanks to military assistance from Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Arab countries have inched closer toward restoring ties with the Syrian leader.

In June, Bahrain named its full diplomatic mission to Syria in over a decade, while Algeria’s top diplomat in a Damascus visit last July said his nation alongside other Arab countries was coordinating to restore Syria’s Arab League membership. Assad also had a call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in October 2021, who hosted Western-backed opposition groups and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war.

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