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Time for Syria to return to Arab fold, UAE president tells Assad during visit

The UAE president told his Syrian counterpart on Sunday that it was time for diplomatically isolated Damascus to reintegrate into the wider Arab region during a meeting in Abu Dhabi, state media reported.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s trip, his second to the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, follows a visit to Oman last month, his only official engagements in Arab countries since the start of Syria’s war in 2011.

It coincides with increased engagement by Arab states with the government in Damascus, which has been politically isolated in the region since the start of the Syrian war and was expelled from the Cairo-based Arab League in 2011 for its violent crackdown on demonstrations in favor of democracy.

“Syria has been absent from its brothers for too long and the time has come for it to return to them and its Arab environment,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan told Assad during a meeting at the presidential palace, according to the official. WAM news agency.

The Emirati president called for efforts to facilitate the repatriation of Syrian refugees and backed a compromise between Damascus and Ankara, which is now working towards a rapprochement with Assad after years of supporting rebels fighting his government, according to WAM.

– ‘Deeper insight’ –

Abu Dhabi, which normalized relations with Assad’s government in 2018, led relief efforts after the Feb. 6 earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, killing tens of thousands.

Analysts say the diplomatic momentum generated after the quake could boost Damascus’ relations with Middle Eastern countries that have so far resisted normalization after more than a decade of war.

“The UAE’s approach and efforts towards Syria are part of a deeper vision and broader approach aimed at strengthening Arab and regional stability,” said top Emirati presidential adviser Anwar Gargash.

“The position of the United Arab Emirates is clear regarding the need for Syria to return” to its place in the Arab world and to regain legitimacy in the region, Gargash said on Twitter.

“This was confirmed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed during his meeting today” with Assad, the adviser added.

During the meeting on Sunday, Assad praised the role of the United Arab Emirates in strengthening relations between the Arab countries, according to a statement from the Syrian presidency.

The Syrian president criticized the policy of severing ties between Arab states as a “wrong principle in politics”, arguing that relations should be “fraternal”, the statement said.

– ‘Time to make up’ –

During the war, Assad had rarely gone abroad, with the notable exception of trips to allies Iran and Russia, where he visited again this week and met with President Vladimir Putin.

Sunday’s visit to the United Arab Emirates is Assad’s first official trip abroad accompanied by his wife Asma in more than a decade.

It also comes on the heels of a Chinese-brokered announcement earlier this month to end a seven-year diplomatic rift between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia, which had backed rival sides in the Syria war.

“Syria is no longer an arena for confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran as it was at certain stages,” Assad told Russian state broadcaster RT in an interview last week, welcoming the Saudi détente. and Iran as a “wonderful surprise.”

“Saudi policy has taken a different direction towards Syria,” he said.

On Thursday, Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met with the Emirati president in Abu Dhabi and held talks with the United Arab Emirates’ national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who on Sunday attended to the welcoming ceremony for Assad.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, which has also sent earthquake aid to Syria, said last month that a consensus was building in the Arab world that a new approach would be needed for Damascus to address humanitarian crises, including the earthquake.

The United Arab Emirates had pledged more than $100 million in assistance for quake-hit Syria, by far the largest sum from a single nation.

It also dispatched a search and rescue team, provided thousands of tons of emergency relief items, and provided medical treatment to Syrian earthquake victims at Emirati hospitals.

And the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, last month became the first senior Arab official to visit Syria since the earthquake.

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 leading the efforts to reconcile with the enemies of the past and transform them into the friends of tomorrow,” Abdulla told AFP.

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