The U.S. State Department said it was “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“We urge states considering engagement with the Assad regime to weigh carefully the horrific atrocities visited by the regime on the Syrians over the last decade, as well as the regime’s continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, according to Reuters.
Price added that the trip was an “apparent attempt to legitimize” Assad.
Friday’s visit was Assad’s first to an Arab state since the Syrian war began in 2011. Assad, an ally of Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBelarusian president says Putin is ‘completely sane’ and ‘in better shape than ever’ Thousands of Mariupol residents forcibly taken to Russia, city council says Pentagon chief says Russia has ‘struggled with logistics,’ made ‘missteps’ in Ukraine invasion MORE, has traveled outside Syria only a few times during the war, and has made official visits to only Russia and Iran.
He met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of the UAE, who “stressed that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security, and that the UAE is keen to strengthen cooperation with it,” according to UAE state news agency WAM. He also met with Dubai’s ruler and the prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Syria is urgently looking to reinstate relations with oil-rich countries as its economy is crippled by Western sanctions. Thousands of Syrians currently work in the UAE and send money to their relatives at home, the AP noted.
The meeting comes in the aftermath of a decadelong war that started with an uprising against Assad’s rule and spiraled into the world’s biggest refugee crisis as the Syrian president crushed his opponents with Russian support.
U.S. officials had previously expressed concern in November when the UAE foreign minister visited Damascus and met Assad.