Abu Dhabi’s visit comes a day after meeting Lebanon’s prime minister, and could be sign of shifting alliances
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has met the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, a move that was welcomed by Lebanon, in what appeared to be the highest-profile Emirati visit to Syria since the start of the civil war.
“[The UAE minister of state for foreign affairs] Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed had a high-level bilateral meeting with president Bashar al-Assad, and it was a successful visit,” the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdulrahman al-Omar, told the Associated Press on Friday.
The meeting at the presidential palace, near Damascus, came a day after Sheikh Abdullah held talks with the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, who has long been a rival of the powerful UAE, the close regional ally of the Syrian leader.
It was not immediately clear what was discussed at the meeting with the Syrian president. Syria is home to about 650,000 displaced people in Lebanon and around 25,000 UAE nationals.
UN says Syrian man found dead near Lebanese border was planning to escape Read more
The announcement that Abdullah would meet Assad followed weeks of high-level contacts between the allies.
Lebanon has been plunged into political turmoil following Hariri’s resignation on 4 November in Saudi Arabia, and concerns were growing about the influence of the UAE in the country, with one army major-general resigning in protest at what he called “subtle, manipulative” overtures by the federation towards the Syrian regime.
The army commander sent his resignation letter to Sheikh Abdullah, which circulated widely in Lebanon, and the Emirati foreign minister met with Hariri on Monday at the French embassy in Beirut.
“This comes amid Saudi Arabia’s diminished role in Lebanon,” said Rami Khouri, the professor of international affairs at the American University of Beirut. “Saudi Arabia is now being bypassed by the UAE, which can also capitalise on Syria’s current dangerous security environment to a certain extent.”
Sheikh Abdullah has been ordered to resign at a meeting of the ruling elite in the United Arab Emirates early next week to put pressure on him to quit, he said. The order could be lifted if the Emirati foreign minister presents a credible plan to end a political impasse, Khouri added.