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Assad’s 1st Arab country visit since war

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has visited the United Arab Emirates in his first trip to an Arab state since the Syrian war began in 2011.

The visit underlines warming ties with a US-allied country that once backed rebels who sought his ouster.

Assad on Friday met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who “stressed that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security, and that the UAE is keen to strengthen co-operation with it”, Emirati state news agency reported.

Assad’s only trips outside Syria during the war have been to Iran and Russia, close allies whose military support helped him turn the tide against opponents who had been backed by governments including US-allied Gulf states.

The United States has opposed efforts to normalise ties with Assad or rehabilitate him until progress is made towards a political solution to the conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people since spiralling out of an uprising against Assad.

But Washington has eroded its political capital with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE by not heeding their concerns about regional rival Iran, ending its support for their war in Yemen and slapping conditions on US weapons sales to the Gulf states.

WAM said the sides emphasised “the preservation of the territorial integrity of Syria and the withdrawal of foreign forces” from the fragmented country where Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States have a military presence.

They also discussed political and humanitarian support for Syria and its people to reach a peaceful solution to all the challenges it faced, WAM reported.

Assad also met Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

The meetings marked the latest diplomatic overtures that point to a shift under way in the Middle East, where several Arab countries are reviving ties with Assad.

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