UAE chief brings regime change hopes, calls for peace

Written by Staff Writer

He also met with the president’s most senior aides, including Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Defense Minister Faisal Al-Eidah.

Saif Mohamed al-Zaher, vice president of the country, led a delegation of about 50 officials, including the UAE national flag carrier, Emirates Airlines, amid growing hopes of a thaw in the decades-old Syria crisis.

The Gulf state has often been active on the diplomatic front in the Middle East, but has rarely been as visible in the region. It is headquartered in the capital of Abu Dhabi and contributes the biggest share of funds for financial aid and development assistance to Gulf countries.

“The UAE considers the stability and independence of Syria as a major interest for the region and for the world,” Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi told the state news agency in a statement.

“The UAE delegation discussed the latest developments in Syria and commended the decisive steps taken by President Bashar Al-Assad to restore peace to the country.”

The visit, the first by a high-level UAE delegation to Syria since the war began in 2011, was also aimed at strengthening ties with Assad’s government and to renew cooperation with Syrian rebels, the official news agency reported.

It was also seen as a nod to Russia, one of Assad’s most important supporters, and a potential source of support to the rebels fighting Assad.

It was the highest-profile Emirati visit to Syria since a foreign ministers meeting between Abdul Fatah al-Sultan, the UAE’s then ambassador, and Assad in June 2015.

The last high-level Emirati visit to Syria was by Sultan, now the ambassador to Russia, in July 2016, when he held meetings with Assad and then-President Putin. Sultan also traveled to Damascus in 2014, visiting then-President Assad.

Sultan’s visit followed that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who was in the country in June 2014.

The UAE shares a 200-mile border with Syria and contributed the most money to aid and development projects there since the Syrian conflict began. In 2017, the UAE contributed a record $1.45 billion in support of Syrian refugees in various countries across the Middle East.

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