Syria’s Assad Arrives in UAE on Official Visit

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad meets with President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday. (Syrian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS)

DUBAI (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday for an official visit, accompanied by his wife, at a time when more Arab states have signaled openness to easing the isolation of Damascus.

The visit was marked with more ceremony than his previous trip to the UAE last year, which had been his first to an Arab state since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, when Gulf states including the UAE backed rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.

State media said he was met by President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on arrival in Abu Dhabi on Sunday and received a canon salute as his convoy entered the royal palace. Assad’s plane was greeted by Emirati fighter jets.

The UAE, a U.S. ally, has led a shift in the Middle East toward reviving ties with Assad, who held talks in Oman last month on his first foreign trip since the devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkey, and visited Russia earlier this month.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, to a lesser extent the UAE, once backed rebels fighting to overthrow Assad. But Abu Dhabi has rebuilt ties with Damascus in recent years despite U.S. objections as it looks to counter the influence of Iran, which along with Russia, back Assad in the Syria conflict.

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which recently reached an agreement with rival Iran to restore bilateral ties, has opened the door for possible dialogue with Damascus, saying Arab consensus was building that isolating Syria was not working.

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