DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his first visit to an Arab state since the Syrian war began in 2011, underlining warming ties with a U.S.-allied country that once backed rebels who sought his ouster.
Assad met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan who “stressed that Syria is a fundamental pillar of Arab security, and that the UAE is keen to strengthen cooperation with it”, Emirati state news agency (WAM) reported.
A video posted by WAM showed Assad smiling as he stood alongside Sheikh Mohammed in front of the Syrian and Emirati flags, as well as gesticulating and smiling during talks.
The visit drew a sharp rebuke from Washington, with the State Department saying it was “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by what it called an apparent attempt to legitimize Assad.
Assad’s only trips outside Syria during the war have been to Iran and Russia, close allies whose military support helped him turn the tide against opponents who had been backed by governments including U.S.-allied Gulf states.
He also met on Friday with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Syrian presidency said in a statement.