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US foreign policy

US officials criticize efforts to normalize ties with Syria’s Assad

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

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US officials slammed attempts to normalize ties with Syria’s Assad regime on Tuesday after the top Emirati diplomat was the most senior UAE official to visit Damascus since 2011.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed was reportedly greeted by his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad at the Damascus International Airport earlier Tuesday.

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The UAE FM was in Cyprus before heading to Syria, which has been decimated as a result of the yearslong war.

He also met with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus. The UAE has previously criticized US sanctions on Syria, but Washington has stood firm in its stance against Assad.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the US did not support such meetings.

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

“As we’ve said before, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or to rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad who is a brutal dictator,” he added from the State Department’s daily press briefing.

“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,” Price said.

Despite Washington’s public and private warnings, including US law that warrants sanctions for business deals with the Assad regime before a peaceful resolution is reached, the UAE has reopened its embassy in Damascus and its contact with President Bashar al-Assad.

“It is shameful that a growing number of countries are open to normalizing relations w/ #Assad. The #UAE and others that are ignoring the ongoing violence against #Syrian civilians should work towards implementing #UNSCR2254 before taking any further steps toward normalization,” Senator Jim Risch tweeted.

Risch is the top Republican official on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A former Trump administration also criticized the move, saying “regional attempts to normalize Assad are doomed to fail.”

“They will always be limited by America’s permanent unwillingness to see Assad rehabilitated, as well as by Assad’s permanent unwillingness to do the bare minimum the ‘normalizers’ require to justify their appeasement,” former US Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said.

Read more: UAE minister: US sanctions on Syria pose challenge for Arab League rapprochement