Back in the Arab fold, Syria’s Assad invited to COP28 climate conference in UAE

Invitation is latest move to rehabilitate Syrian president after years of being frozen out of regional politics due to his government’s brutal crackdown and civil war

Syrian President Bashar Assad attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 15, 2023. ( Vladimir GERDO / SPUTNIK / AFP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 15, 2023. ( Vladimir GERDO / SPUTNIK / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad received an invitation to attend the upcoming COP28 climate talks in Dubai later this year, even as the yearslong war in his country over his rule grinds on.

Assad’s invite, late Monday, to the climate talks comes as the Syrian president already is scheduled to attend the Arab League summit this Friday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, years after being frozen out of regional politics. A brutal crackdown by Assad’s government on demonstrators in a 2011 Arab Spring uprising challenging his rule descended into a civil war and consequently became a regional conflict.

The war has killed half a million people and displaced half of its population.

Assad’s invitation came in a letter from Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported. The agency published images of Assad reading the letter alongside an Emirati diplomat in Damascus. The UAE similarly had cut ties with Assad, only to slowly restore them in recent years.

Asked for comment, the Emirati office organizing the upcoming climate conference said in a statement that the event marked “a milestone opportunity for the world to come together, course correct, and drive progress towards keeping the goals and ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement alive.”

“COP28 is committed to an inclusive COP process that produces transformational solutions,” the statement added. “This can only happen if we have everyone in the room.”

Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., talks during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb 14, 2023 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Syria is both a party to the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as the Kyoto Protocol. Scientists have linked a drought in Syria that began in 2007 to climate change, saying that it likely played a part in the conflict.

However, Assad’s invitation will probably heighten scrutiny of the Emirates ahead of hosting the talks.

Already, activists have criticized the UAE for nominating the head of its dominant state oil company as the president of the talks. That company has plans to boost its production of both crude oil and natural gas, fossil fuels that produce more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that the UN negotiations hope to limit. But the oil chief, Sultan al-Jaber, has also helped oversee the Emirates pledging tens of billions of dollars toward renewable energy projects worldwide.

The Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — will be held at Dubai’s Expo City from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.

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