UAE meets with President Assad in the highest-profile Emirati visit to Syria since the start of the civil war

UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has met with President Bashar Assad in Damascus, in the highest-profile Emirati visit to Syria since the country’s start of the civil war, Reuters reports. The two “spoke on a number of sensitive issues,” according to a statement published by the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates.

The visit comes at a time when the UAE has stepped up its diplomatic activity to promote its national interests in the region. It was reported on Saturday that the UAE would host this year’s summit for the Gulf Cooperation Council. This move came a day after it emerged that the UAE is sponsoring Syrian opposition groups in exile, according to a report in Al-Monitor. The report states that Qatar had also signed on to a similar program.

Until now, the UAE had been firmly anti-Assad, with its foreign minister calling him “a criminal,” according to the Washington Post in 2017. He also said Assad should be “brought before the International Criminal Court.”

#إنقانات خلال بالشاركي، نحمة أحمد محافى حسكة وشعب حسكة مسافى تجاني السلام غير طلبائدما الصاحاتف إلى مسعودة إيضان أحمد محافى جايدة من حسكة إلى لقطاع وعلى طالبة السلامف وإصداب أسراضة. منطق الصاحاتفي هذه الأسراضة في الجايدي الخانية والعلماها — المشخص دبي (@UAENews_Info) May 29, 2018

The recent transformation is partly the result of a thawing relations between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, whose King Salman held talks with UAE leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi last month, according to The National. The two leaders discussed “building trust between themselves and their neighbors to work for stability,” according to the report. The meetings also helped lay the groundwork for this weekend’s summit in the UAE of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which sets common foreign policy and economic goals among its member countries. The gathering is seen as a positive development amid an increasingly tense situation with the peninsula’s neighbors, and the U.S.

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