United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday – the first official meeting between the two nations since the UAE severed diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012.

This meeting is a significant step by the UAE in an attempt to bring Syria back to the Arab-world fold after relations with Syria sunk to their lowest level over the last 10 years.

Since the Civil War erupted in Syria in 2011, the regime has allied with Iran in an effort to push back against opposition forces in the country targeting the Assad government. The U.S. criticized the visit and said it would not support normalization with Assad.

Bin Zayed headed a delegation of senior Emirati officials who discussed bilateral relations and cooperation with their Syrian counterparts. He emphasized the UAE’s support for stability in Syria and said that events in Syria impact the wider Arab world. 

During the meeting, they also discussed developing bilateral cooperation in various fields of common interest, and intensifying efforts to explore new horizons for this cooperation, especially in vital sectors that will strengthen investment partnerships in these sectors.

Assad stressed the close brotherly relations between Syria and the UAE stem from the days of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. According to a statement from his office, Assad praised “the objective and wise stances taken by the United Arab Emirates.” 

Sentiment was quite different in Washington.

“We are concerned by reports of the meeting and the signal it sends,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said. “This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator. We urge states in the region to carefully consider the atrocities that this regime (and) Bashar Assad himself has perpetrated on the Syrian people over the past decade, as well as the regime’s ongoing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security.”

Syria has been the pariah of the Middle East since 2011 and Assad has been accused of war crimes for using chemical weapons against his own people. 

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