The United States on Tuesday criticized the top diplomat of ally the United Arab Emirates for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denouncing efforts to rehabilitate a “brutal dictator.”
“We are concerned about reports of this meeting and the signal that it sends,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
US point of view
“This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator,” Price said, not referring to him as president.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was paying the first such visit to Syria in a decade, a month after he visited Washington for three-way talks involving Israel.
Price declined to say if the United States had conveyed its concerns to the Emirates but said Washington was “not surprised,” indicating that there was discussion beforehand.
Arab states have increasingly been warming ties with Assad after concluding that he has effectively won a brutal decade-long civil war in which he battled both militants backed by Sunni Arab states and the brutal Islamic State movement.
President Joe Biden s administration has said it is focused on humanitarian relief.
But Price said there was no question of legitimizing Assad.
“There has been no change in our position and Bashar al-Assad certainly has not said anything that would rehabilitate his image or that would suggest that he or his regime is changing its ways,” he said.
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates met with Syria’s once widely shunned president in Damascus on Tuesday, sending the strongest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with strongman Bashar Assad.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit is the first by a UAE foreign minister since Syria’s conflict began a decade ago and comes as some Arab countries are improving relations with Syria. The UAE has slowly mended ties with Damascus as the tide of the war has turned in favor of Assad.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after its civil war erupted in 2011. However, the improvement of relations between Syria and oil-rich Arab countries could be a major boost for post-war reconstruction.
Reuters with additional input by GVS