DUBAI: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates left the US “profoundly disappointed”, it said Saturday, urging allies to avoid normalising ties with a regime accused of “horrific atrocities”.

Assad’s surprise trip on Friday was his first official visit to an Arab country since civil war erupted in his country in 2011, killing close to half a million people.

It was the latest sign of warming relations between Syria and energy-rich UAE — a key US ally which also normalised ties with Israel in 2020.

“We are profoundly disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimise Bashar al-Assad,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement sent to AFP on Saturday.

Assad, he said, “remains responsible and accountable for the death and suffering of countless Syrians, the displacement of more than half of the pre-war Syrian population, and the arbitrary detention and disappearance of over 150,000 Syrian men, women and children.

As US Secretary of State Antony “Blinken has reiterated, we do not support efforts to rehabilitate Assad, and we do not support others normalising relations,” Price said.

“We have been clear about this with our partners... (and) we urge states considering engagement with the Assad regime to weigh carefully the horrific atrocities visited by the regime.”

Friday’s visit by Assad to the UAE came as Russia — a key Damascus backer which also has solid ties with the Emirates — pressed its war on Ukraine.

‘FRATERNAL’ TIES

Syria’s war erupted in March 2011 after the brutal repression of anti-government protests, and a year later the UAE, like most Arab countries, broke ties with Damascus.

But the UAE reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018, suggesting an effort to bring Assad’s regime back into the Arab fold.

On Friday, Assad and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, discussed the “fraternal relations” between the two countries, the official news agency WAM reported.

Talks also centred on efforts to “contribute to the consolidation of security, stability and peace in the Arab region and the Middle East”, said WAM.

Sheikh Mohammed said he hoped the visit would “pave the way for goodness, peace and stability to prevail in Syria and the entire region”, it added.

The pair also discussed ways of “preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country,” it said, as well as means of providing “political and humanitarian support for Syria”.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said the meeting had helped to “strengthen cooperation” between the two sides.

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