© Reuters. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad meets with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on January 4, 2023. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates foreign minister in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and an Arab state that once supported rebels trying to overthrow him.
The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM. It said Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed noted UAE support for a political solution to Syria’s more than decade-old conflict.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said they discussed regional and international developments and economic relations.
It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that re-initiated relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
Among Western countries Assad remains a pariah for having overseen a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 that escalated into armed conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and sent millions fleeing.
Some other countries have moved back towards normalisation with Assad, though this has not immediately improved the lives of Syrians.
The economy remains in ruins, and more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 20 million are either internally displaced or live abroad as refugees.
Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defence ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war began.
Turkey has played a significant part in Syria’s conflict, backing Assad’s opponents and sending troops into the north.
It also hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
The rapprochement, brought about with encouragement from Assad’s most powerful ally Russia, could help end the conflict.
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous words in paragraph 6)