Sweeping US sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad undermine regional rapprochement efforts that could help settle the Syrian conflict, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has said.
In a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan pushed for “joint action with Syria”, saying American economic pressure “as it is today makes the matter difficult”.
Sheikh Abdullah said it was an issue that “should be part of [the] dialogue we address clearly with our friends in the United States”.
He further pushed for the reinstatement of war-torn Syria in the 22-member Arab League and noted the government and private sector “could play a role” in returning Syria “to normal” after years of ruinous war.
Sheikh Abdullah’s remarks underscore shifting regional dynamics as the 10-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war looms next week.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) supported the Syrian opposition during the early years of the war. But as the Syrian army recaptured most of the territory from the opposition, the UAE and other Arab countries made openings towards al-Assad’s government.
In 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus for the first time since the start of an organised Arab diplomatic boycott in 2011.
‘Accountable for atrocities’
Syria’s near-complete isolation has increased since the Trump administration in 2019 enacted legislation known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.
The sanctions, which US officials said aimed to hold “accountable the Assad regime for atrocities it has committed against its own people”, target Syria’s president, his close circle of associates, family, senior security officials and troops, as well as the central bank and any institutions believed to have played a role in the violence during the war.
While al-Assad may have won the military campaign against his opponents with the help of backers Russia and Iran, he faces an even bigger challenge of governing while more than 80 percent of his people live in poverty.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov did not elaborate on the Syrian conflict at the news conference beyond saying Russia “supports a political settlement” there as well as in war-scarred Libya and Yemen.
In Libya, the UAE and Russia provided military aid to east-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar as his forces battled the UN-recognised government for control of the country’s capital last year.