Syrian opposition condemns UAE FM's visit to Damascus amid Iranian approval
Syria’s main opposition body has condemned a visit by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan to Damascus which took place on Tuesday.
In a statement issued on Thursday evening, the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC), an umbrella organisation which includes a number of groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said that it opposed “any re-engagement with the Assad regime”.
The SNC warned of the “dangers of extending a helping hand to a criminal regime that has proven that it can ally only with murderers and criminals”.
Abdullah bin Zayed is the highest ranking Emirati official to visit Damascus ever since the Syrian conflict broke out more than a decade ago.
In response to the Assad regime’s brutal suppression of peaceful protests at the beginning of the conflict in 2011, many Arab countries, including the UAE, broke off ties with the Assad regime and its membership in the Arab League was suspended.
However in 2018 the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, widely seen as the UAE’s de facto ruler, spoke on the phone to President Assad last month.
Abdullah bin Zayed said that his visit to Damascus was to “boost ties” adding that it was part of the “UAE’s keenness to boost the security, stability and unity of Syria.”
The UAE has in recent years has provided an economic lifeline to the Assad regime and become its most prominent foreign trade partner, with the UAE economy ministry announcing that the country accounted for 14 percent of the Syrian regime’s foreign trade.
“Promoting the restoration of relations with the Assad regime represents a grave strategic mistake and a move towards a dead end… No one will be able to grant legitimacy to a gangster regime that is responsible for killing, displacing and detaining millions, and that committed massacres using chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” the SNC statement said.
The SNC statement added that normalisation of relations between Arab states and the Assad regime “will only serve the Iranian project, which has become a nightmare for everyone in the region”.
The Iranian government has been the Assad regime’s most important regional ally throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, and its proxy militias have fought alongside the regime against rebel groups.
Relations between Iran and the UAE have been largely hostile in recent years, with Iran’s occupation of three Gulf islands claimed by the UAE a continuing source of tension.
However, Abdullah bin Zayed spoke with his Iranian counterpart Hussein Amir-Abdollahian on Thursday. Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope that the two countries would strengthen cooperation and develop trade relations, according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency.
Amir-Abdollahian also said that bin Zayed’s trip to Damascus was “a positive step”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh added that the improvement of ties between the Assad regime and Arab countries would “lead to growth and dynamism in the region,” according to Mehr.