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Usa News

Assad’s second diplomatic trip in days accelerates easing of lockdown

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for an official visit accompanied by his wife, a sign of the growing momentum with which he is returning to the international scene after a decade of isolation.

Considered a pariah in many parts of the world for overseeing the bombardment and torture of his people when a 2011 uprising turned into a civil war, Mr. al-Assad was welcomed to the capital Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Emirati, with a 21-gun salute, according to a report by the official Emirates News Agency.

He was received by a delegation that included Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and the two discussed “fraternal relations” between their countries, the agency said. Sheikh Mohammed also offered his condolences to the victims of the deadly earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey last month, and expressed confidence that Syria would overcome the crisis and “enter a new era”.

The trip came days after Mr. al-Assad traveled to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, and almost exactly a year after the Syrian leader’s last visit to the United Arab Emirates, which was his first reception by an Arab country. since the start of the Syrian civil war.

At the time, a State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said Washington was “deeply disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad, who remains responsible for the death and suffering of countless Syrians, the displacement of over half of Syria’s pre-war population and the arbitrary detention and disappearance of over 150,000 Syrian men, women and children.

Yet Mr. al-Assad’s normalization in the Middle East has only gained momentum since then, as other Arab leaders grapple with the fact that he is, obviously, here to stay.

“For the Emirates and other Arab countries, this is a recognition of the new reality of Syria, which means that it can no longer be eliminated,” said Mahdi Dakhlallah, a Syrian politician and diplomat from the Baath Party, by telephone from Damascus.

Last month’s earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, thrust Mr al-Assad into the softer light of disaster diplomacy, allowing him to further consolidate his position in the region. . After the earthquake, he met with several Arab officials, including the Emirati, Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers, who traveled to Damascus to offer their condolences. The United Arab Emirates has pledged $100 million in aid.

Sunday marked the first time in years that Mr. al-Assad’s wife, Asma al-Assad, appeared with him on an official visit. A Twitter account for the Syrian Presidency shared photos of her in a white suitsmiling and chatting with the Emirati delegation.

The United Arab Emirates is a small, oil-rich Persian Gulf nation with outsized global influence where officials are keen to nurture relations with competing powers including the United States, China, Russia and Iran. He led the way among Arab countries by restoring ties with Mr. al-Assad’s government and reopened his embassy in Syria in 2018.

The visit to Abu Dhabi is “an affirmation of Syria’s restoration to its role”, Dakhlallah said. “It’s still in the early stages, but it’s started.”

Saudi Arabia, the regional political heavyweight, has yet to follow suit. When the uprising began, the kingdom initially backed rebel groups fighting against Mr. al-Assad’s government forces. But when the earthquake hit, the kingdom sent planes full of aid to Syrian government-held and opposition-held territories.

At a conference in Germany last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan acknowledged that Arab countries were at a “stalemate” with the Syrian government and that the stalemate did not matter much. something to alleviate the suffering of Syrians in Syria or abroad.

“There is a consensus within the Arab world that the status quo is not working and that we need to find another approach,” he said. “What is this approach, it is still being formulated.”

Ahmed Al-Omran contributed report.

nytimes Gt

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