US 'concerned' by UAE foreign minister meeting with Syria's Assad - State Dept.

The foreign minister led a delegation of senior Emirati officials that discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in a meeting with Syrian counterparts.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the State Department in Washington, US, March 31, 2021. (photo credit: CAROLYN KASTER/POOL VIA REUTERS)
US State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the State Department in Washington, US, March 31, 2021.
(photo credit: CAROLYN KASTER/POOL VIA REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – State Department Spokesman Ned Price addressed the meeting between the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, a sign of improving ties between Assad and a US-allied Arab state that once supported rebels trying to overthrow him.

“We are concerned by reports of this meeting and the signal it sends,” said Price. “As we’ve said before, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or to rehabilitate Bashar Assad, who is a brutal dictator.”

Bin Zayed is the most senior Emirati dignitary to visit Syria in the decade since the eruption of a civil war in which several Arab states backed mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents against Assad.

The foreign minister led a delegation of senior Emirati officials that discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in a meeting with Syrian counterparts, a statement by the Syrian presidency said.

“We urge states in the region to carefully consider the atrocities that this regime – that Bashar Assad – himself has perpetrated on the Syrian people over the last decade, as well as the regime’s ongoing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security,” Price said during the State Department press briefing.

“This is an issue that we often do have the opportunity to discuss with our close partners in the region, including with our Emirati partners, and we’ve made very clear where we stand on this.”

SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar Assad addresses members of his country’s parliament in Damascus in August.  (credit: SANA/REUTERS)SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar Assad addresses members of his country’s parliament in Damascus in August. (credit: SANA/REUTERS)

The US will not normalize or upgrade its diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, he said, “nor do we support other countries normalizing or upgrading their relations, given the atrocities that this regime has inflicted on its own people: on the Syrian people.”

He said that stability in Syria and the region “can only be achieved through a political process that represents the will of all Syrians, and we’re committed to working with allies... partners, and the UN toward the achievement of a durable political solution.”

Asked whether the US conveyed to the UAE its discontent about the meeting, Price noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an opportunity to see his Emirati counterpart recently when he traveled to Europe and the United Kingdom.

“I don’t want to further characterize the meeting publicly,” Price said. “I will say that we were not taken by surprise.”

Reuters contributed to this report.