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US and UAE diplomats: Russia has crucial role in solution to Syria crisis

The officials spoke on the increasing need to adapt diplomatic relationships to both traditional and social media

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said on Wednesday that the United States is increasingly recognizing the role Russia plays in solving the conflict in Syria.

“We recognized recently that we had to work with Russia on Syria. They needed to be part of the solution there,” Toner said, speaking at the Arab Media Forum being held in Dubai.

Toner had been discussing the current status of US-Arab diplomacy. In the past year, the US has faced criticism that it was purposely disengaging in the region as part of its wider foreign policy agenda.

“I’d like to confront the notion that we are disengaging in the region. That policy is absolutely false. The US has recently, within the past year and a half, recognized the need to defeat ISIS and has worked with anti-ISIS coalition to financially and territorially beat ISIS. They’re retreating now,” Toner said.

When asked about controversial statements made by President Barack Obama in an interview with The Atlantic on his relations with Gulf states, Toner said that the issue was resolved at the recent US-GCC summit.

"Like in every relationship, alliance and friendship, two partners are bound to fight and disagree with one another. That is unfortunately the lessons in life," Toner said.

At an earlier session on Monday at the forum, the UAE’s ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash echoed similar sentiments when he said that Russia is a much-needed partner in defeating radical extremists in Iraq and Russia.

Ghobash said that almost 40 percent of ISIS propaganda has been released in the Russian language in recent years, all the more reason to work with their Russian partners.

“The key question with Russia regarding Syria has always been defeating radical Islam rather than propping up an Assad regime,” Ghobash told CNN’s Hala Gorani, who moderated the session.

Increasing role of media in diplomacy

Both officials spoke on the increasing need to adapt diplomatic relationships to both traditional and social media.

“While the West might view Russian media as the ‘other,’ it is very important to at least listen to the arguments, even if we disagree with one another. Dialogue has to be open to move forward,” the UAE diplomat said.

For his part, Toner said that the State Department treat their briefings every morning like the editorial meetings held in newsrooms.

“We do a news scan of the news events that happened overnight and ask ourselves what the story of the day is. What’s the messaging of the State department and how do we handle policy making,” he said.