Accessibility links

Breaking News

Some See Assad's Visit to UAE as Step Forward for Syria


In this photo released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 18, 2022.

Arab media based in the United Arab Emirates cast a positive light on the visit of Syrian President Bashar al Assad to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Friday, to meet the top rulers of the important Gulf state, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

Assad's meeting Friday followed a visit by the UAE's foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, to Moscow a day earlier, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin, whose country deployed troops to Syria in 2015 to support the Assad government, has been urging Arab states to normalize ties with Damascus.

Washington-based Gulf analyst Theodore Karasik told VOA that "Assad's visit to the UAE has been in the works for a long time," but that its timing has some relation to "Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the (apparent imminent resumption of) JCPOA —or 2015 nuclear agreement —between the P5+1 states and Iran."

Karasik also argued that the Emirates' decision to host Assad reflects "unhappiness" with current U.S. policy and bilateral relations, prompting the UAE "to take matters into their own hands." He added the rehabilitation of Assad "goes to the heart of a UAE—Russia strategic agreement that was signed in 2019," but suspects that it will "attract U.S. sanctions" at some point.

Al Jazeera TV reported that U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the Qatari-owned station that the U.S. "does not support the rehabilitation of Assad, nor the normalization of relations by other states with him," and that "stability in the region is dependent on a political process that represents the will of the Syrian people."

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that a number of other countries, including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Algeria, are leaning toward renewing ties with the Assad government, but that he thinks the Cairo-based Arab League is not likely to give Syria its seat back this year.

He said that despite the inclination of some states to resume ties with Assad, the opposition of Qatar, the hesitancy of Saudi Arabia to go along, and the outright veto of the U.S. is likely to prevent a wholesale normalization with the Syrian regime beyond the UAE and Jordan.

Abu Diab added that he doesn't think the Arab League will "resume relations with Damascus this year," and that "Assad will need to start taking back refugees before some Arab states will agree to normalize ties with him."

Joshua Landis, who is heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells VOA that "the US wants the Arab states to keep Syria isolated in order to punish Russia, but the Arabs are not playing ball."

Landis argues that the Arab states "feel that the US has not taken their interests sufficiently into account." "Saudi Arabia," he notes, has defied [US President Joe] Biden's request that it pump more oil," while the UAE feels compelled to "work with Syria to combat Islamic extremists."

Both Syria and the UAE also have economic reasons to improve ties with each other, given that Damascus' economic relations with Russia and Belarus are suffering since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while the UAE needs to improve ties with both Syria and Iran to help it to reduce its exposure to the conflict in Yemen.

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told VOA that the Arab League summit, due to be held in Algeria in November, is expected to consider returning Syria's seat in the body to the Assad regime. He said that Algeria's president has been to Cairo to discuss the status of Syria, among other things, and that there could be a change to the status quo.