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US criticizes UAE minister’s Syria meeting with ‘brutal dictator’ Assad

State Department spokesman says Washington ‘will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate’ Syrian leader after Emirati foreign minister travels to Damascus

In this photo, released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) speaks with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, in Damascus, Syria, on November 9, 2021. (SANA via AP)
In this photo, released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) speaks with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, in Damascus, Syria, on November 9, 2021. (SANA via AP)

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday criticized the top diplomat of ally the United Arab Emirates for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denouncing efforts to rehabilitate a “brutal dictator.”

“We are concerned by reports of this meeting and the signal that it sends,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator,” Price said, not referring to him as president.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan was paying the first such visit to Syria in a decade, a month after he visited Washington for three-way talks involving Israel.

Price declined to say if the US had conveyed its concerns to the Emirates but said Washington was “not surprised,” indicating that there was discussion beforehand.

Arab states have increasingly been warming ties with Assad after concluding that he has effectively won a brutal decade-long civil war in which he battled both militants backed by Sunni Arab states and the brutal Islamic State terrorist group.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price pauses while speaking during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on July 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is focused on humanitarian relief for Syria.

But Price said there was no question of legitimizing Assad.

“There has been no change in our position and Bashar al-Assad certainly has not said anything that would rehabilitate his image or that would suggest that he or his regime is changing its ways,” he said.

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