Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on his first visit to the Gulf country since the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria last month.
The UAE’s president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, greeted al-Assad and his wife Asma in the capital Abu Dhabi on Sunday, official news agency WAM said, before high-level meetings at the presidential palace.
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Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement on Twitter that the two “held constructive talks aimed at developing relations between our two countries”.
“Our discussions also explored ways of enhancing cooperation to accelerate stability and progress in Syria and the region,” Sheikh Mohammed added.
The trip – al-Assad’s second to the oil-rich country in as many years – comes after a visit to Oman last month. The two trips are his only official engagements in Arab countries since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Abu Dhabi, which normalised relations with al-Assad’s internationally isolated government in 2018, has contributed to aid efforts in the aftermath of the February 6 earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, killing tens of thousands.
The Syrian presidency said Asma, on her first known official visit abroad with al-Assad since 2011, would meet with Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, who is the Emirati president’s mother and regarded in the UAE as the “Mother of the Nation”.
I welcomed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the UAE today, and we held constructive talks aimed at developing relations between our two countries. Our discussions also explored ways of enhancing cooperation to accelerate stability and progress in Syria and the region. pic.twitter.com/QlcIWomFDE
— محمد بن زايد (@MohamedBinZayed) March 19, 2023
The visit marks a continuation in the ongoing thaw of relations between Syria and other Arab countries, more than a decade after the 22-member Arab League suspended Damascus’s membership over al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters and later on civilians during the war.
International sympathy following the quake appears to have sped up the regional rapprochement that had been brewing for years
“The UAE’s approach and efforts towards Syria are part of a deeper vision and a broader approach aimed at strengthening Arab and regional stability,” senior Emirati presidential adviser Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
“The UAE’s position is clear regarding the need for Syria to return to” its place in the Arab world and regain legitimacy in the region, Gargash said on Twitter.
“This was confirmed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed during his meeting today” with al-Assad, the adviser added.
The UAE has pledged more than $100m in assistance to quake-hit Syria, by far the largest sum by any single nation.
It has also dispatched a search and rescue team, provided thousands of tonnes of emergency relief items and provided medical treatment for Syrian quake victims in Emirati hospitals.
And the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, last month became the first senior Arab official to visit Syria since the quake.
Emirati analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Abu Dhabi “is convinced, along with many Arab states, that the time has come to reconcile with Assad… and see Syria return to the Arab League and the Arab fold”.
“The UAE is spearheading efforts to reconcile with enemies of the past and transform them into the friends of tomorrow,” Abdulla told AFP news agency.