DUBAI (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday for an official visit, accompanied by his wife Asma al Assad, at a time when more Arab states have indicated they are open to easing the isolation of Damascus. .
The visit was marked with more ceremony than his previous trip to the UAE last year, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, when Gulf states, including the UAE, supported rebels fighting to overthrow Assad. .
According to state media, he was met by President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on arrival in Abu Dhabi on Sunday and received a gun salute as his convoy entered the royal palace. Assad’s plane was greeted by fighter jets from the Emirates.
“We have had constructive talks to develop relations between our two countries,” Sheikh Mohammed later said in a Twitter post. “Our discussions also explored ways to strengthen cooperation to accelerate stability and progress in Syria and the region.”
The Syrian presidency said Asma al Assad, on her first known official visit abroad with Assad since 2011, would meet with Sheikh Fatima bint Mubarak, the mother of the Emirati president and who is regarded in the UAE as the “Mother of the Nation”.
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The UAE, an ally of the US, has sparked a shift in the Middle East towards reviving ties with Assad, who held talks in Oman last month on his first trip abroad since the devastating earthquake struck Syria and Turkey, and visited Russia earlier this month.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, to a lesser extent, the UAE once supported the rebels against Assad. But Abu Dhabi has been rebuilding ties with Damascus in recent years, despite US objections, as it appears to be countering the influence of Iran, which along with Russia helped Assad turn the tide against his opponents.
The regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which recently reached an agreement with rival Iran to restore bilateral ties, has opened the door to a possible dialogue with Damascus, particularly on humanitarian issues, saying an Arab consensus is emerging was that isolating Syria didn’t work.
Like Washington, Qatar has resisted any attempt to repair or normalize ties with Assad, citing its administration’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the conflict in Syria, which spawned an uprising against Assad, drew numerous foreign powers and fragmented the country.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; editing by David Goodman and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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